Dr Chew Huck Chin
E-cigarettes are sold in a myriad of fanciful shapes and flavours, going by various names such as e-cigs, vape as well as vape pen. Despite being banned in Singapore, there have been reports of vaping becoming increasingly popular, with vape devices and accessories being sold openly on messaging apps and social media platforms.
E-cigarettes are often marketed as the better and healthier option compared to conventional cigarettes, but they actually harbour many negative properties that are harmful to health. A 2018 study conducted in the United States found that e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals that can cause irreversible damage to the lungs.
Some youths see vaping as a harmless activity and pick up the habit without knowing what they are getting themselves into. We look into common misconceptions about e-cigarettes and debunk the myths.
The truth: The assumption is that e-cigarettes do not contain nicotine, which is why they’re safer than cigarettes. This may not be true. The chemical-laden aerosol that’s sold with e-cigarettes, or more commonly known as e-juices, often contain nicotine. Hence, it’s best not to assume that the e-cigarettes you purchase are nicotine-free. It is also harder to determine what chemicals go into these e-cigarettes when you purchase them locally, given that they are sold illegally without regulations. Despite what the seller claims, there is no certainty that the “nicotine-free e-cigarettes” being purchased contain no traces of nicotine.
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, and can make it hard for one to break the habit of vaping once it is picked up. Some harmful effects of nicotine include:
The truth: While there are some e-juices that are nicotine-free, these juices still harbour chemicals that are damaging to health. Some side effects of these e-juices include mouth and airway irritation; inflammation of the immune system, and potential cell damage, particularly in the lungs.
Nicotine-free e-juices are not just flavoured water vapour. These e-juices are aerosol and contain lots of dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde, which is linked to risk of cancer and infertility; acrolein and diacetyl that may cause lung damage; and harmful metals such as lead and nickel.
Despite the seemingly harmless sweet scent that vape pens emit, they mask the similarly harmful chemicals in the e-juices. Without realising the potential health risks, youths picking up the vaping fad are putting themselves at risk of severe lung injury.
The truth: You’ve made the bold step to quit smoking and that’s great. Though, if you’re hoping e-cigarettes will help you kick the smoking habit, you should probably know it’s neither the most effective nor the safest smoking cessation method.
While e-cigarette brands often market their products as an effective way to quit smoking, this claim is not recognised by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). With insufficient evidence proving that e-cigarettes are effective in helping smokers quit, e-cigarettes are not approved as a smoking cessation aid.
As a matter of fact, a study found that 80% of smokers who switched to e-cigarettes as a start to smoking cessation, end up smoking e-cigarettes even after a year later. In other words, the move to switch to e-cigarettes is merely about replacing the addiction with a perceived trendier habit.
The good news is, there are other clinically proven and healthier smoking cessation methods that can help you quit smoking effectively.
The truth: Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which make them just as addictive as smoking cigarettes. If you think picking up e-cigarettes is a better alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, think again. One study found that those who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to start smoking cigarettes than those who have never tried them. You could end up addicted to both e-cigarettes and tobacco.
Furthermore, vape pens that are sold off the streets or online are not regulated by the government, which means buyers have no idea what actually goes into these e-cigarettes. In the states, the CDC (United States Communicable Diseases Centre) has seen an uptick in lung injury and respiratory issues linked to vaping, especially among youths. Similarly, in Singapore, medical authorities have observed more patients coming in with respiratory issues caused by vaping. Some of the common medical conditions reported include bronchitis, lung inflammation, and pneumonia.
Underestimating the harmful effects of e-cigarettes can be dangerous, leading the user to abuse the substance and cause harm to their body unknowingly. E-cigarettes are also much newer than tobacco cigarettes, and we may not yet know the full extent of the damage that they can cause. Tobacco cigarettes were released and regarded as a relatively harmless and cool accessory in the early 19th century, and we only learnt of their true dangers during the 20th century.
The truth: Although e-cigarettes do not emit smoke like a lit cigarette, e-cigarette emissions do contain harmful chemicals including nicotine and volatile organic compounds. Despite the seemingly more pleasant smell, the effects of secondhand e-cigarette vapour are quite similar to secondhand cigarette smoke. Children are especially at risk of respiratory issues from secondhand aerosol as their lungs are still developing. Nicotine can impair adolescent brain development, causing attention deficit, memory problems, psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment.
Despite the potential risks of secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes, a CDC study conducted in the United States revealed that about 40% of American adults think that exposure to secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes causes minimal harm to children, while another 5% think that it causes no harm at all. While most people are aware of the risk of secondhand smoke from tobacco cigarettes, the lack of awareness of secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes can be putting children and other loved ones at risk.
Vaping comes with a multitude of potential health risks, similar to smoking cigarettes. This fad that’s spreading among the youths may have long-term health ramifications. There is also a lack of research on the long term effects on health, given that e-cigarettes were only invented in 2003. Only time can reveal the true impact of smoking e-cigarettes.
If you’ve been considering e-cigarettes as a means to quit smoking, consider seeking professional help instead. If you know someone who vapes but is unaware of the true extent of the damage, let them know.
Respiratory issues may develop into chronic conditions and serious complications. If you are an e-cigarette user and experience breathing difficulties or any other symptoms, consult a respiratory physician to get a medical assessment.