[News] WTF Is Vaping!? — Are E-Cigs Any Safer Than Smoking The Real Thing?
Photo: Michael Dorausch
It’s almost impossible to go into to a restaurant or bar these days and not see people puffing away on what appear to be cancer sticks. Have indoor smoking bans been lifted or something? Not quite.
What you’re seeing aren’t cigarettes—they’re electronic cigarettes, AKA “e-cigs” or “portable vaporizers” (click here to check out the most advanced vaporizer in the market)—and patrons aren’t breaking any laws or even actually smoking, they’re vaping.
Read on to learn what vaping is, and why it’s gotten so popular all of a sudden.
WTF is Vaping?
An e-cig is a battery-powered device that converts liquid nicotine into a mist, or vapor, allowing users to inhale nicotine without the harmful carbon dioxide, tar, and other chemicals found in cigarettes.
Vaping is marketed as a healthier way for nicotine lovers to get their fix, and depending on who you ask, as an effective smoking cessation method. Largely unregulated and a fairly new technology, e-cigs are steadily growing in popularity, with this year’s sales expected to reach $1.7 billion.
Why Should I Care?
Sheelah A. Feinberg, executive director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, says without federal regulations, people are jumping on the e-cig bandwagon largely uneducated about potential health concerns.
In a 2009 analysis of e-cig samples, the FDA found they contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals, like diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze. The FDA tried to regulate e-cigs then, but tobacco companies sued, saying the FDA had no right to regulate unless they were being marketed for therapeutic purposes. So at least for now, the e-cig industry is like the Wild West.
The MTA recently banned e-cigs from the Long Island Railroad and Metro North commuter trains, and the FDA is looking into creating some sort of federal guidelines, though there’s no specific timeline of when this might happen.
Without regulations, companies can market their products any way they choose. That’s concerning, says Feinberg, because it means they’re able to place ads in magazines that young people read, and sell the liquid in “fun” flavors like bubble gum, chocolate, and cola that appeal primarily to kids.
And the majority of young adults believe vaping is safer than smoking. When researchers from the University of Minnesota asked 2,642 people ages 20 to 28 about their perceptions of e-cigs, they found that 52.8 percent agreed e-cigs are less harmful than cigarettes, 26.3 percent agreed they’re less addictive, and 44.5 percent believed e-cigs can help people quit smoking.
Is it Safer than Smoking?
Maybe. In one study, researchers analyzed the vapors from 12 brands of e-cigs, testing for toxins and carcinogenic compounds. They found that the vapors did contain some toxic substances, but the levels of toxins were nine to 450 times lower than in cigarette smoke.
In another year-long Italian study, 13 percent of men who switched to e-cigs weren’t smoking the regular kind at all by the end of the year. And of those who quit, 70 percent stopped using e-cigarettes, too. So there’s at least hope there.
But Feinberg says it’s too soon to speculate whether e-cigs are healthier than their paper and tar counterparts, because there just hasn’t been enough research done.
“We need to be cautious, though, because the same could be said for cigarettes at one time,” she says. “We didn’t know about the health consequences, but now we do.”
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Kristen Domonell is a NASM certified freelance health and fitness writer for Lean It UP and other well-respected print and online publications. When she isn’t poring over new health and fitness studies, you can usually find her in downward facing dog, running, traveling, daydreaming about Costa Rica, and, after years as a “pescetarian,” having serious bacon withdrawals.
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