Just How Bad Is Vaping For Your Health?

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The year is 2019, and it's suddenly cool to carry around a device that looks like a USB flash drive and heats up a cocktail of nicotine and chemicals for you to inhale. Celebs vape, vape trick videos abound on TikTok, and you can order decorative skins to help customize your own personal JUUL.
As vaping culture grows, experts worry that people aren't taking the health effects of e-cigarette use seriously. "There's a great deal of misinformation about the whole vaping phenomenon," says Enid Neptune, MD, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and co-chair of the ATS Tobacco Action Committee. One of the main issues being that many people compare vaping to smoking conventional cigarettes, when really they are two separate practices that have uniquely different consequences, she adds. So, here Dr. Neptune answers a few questions you might have about how vaping affects your health:

What is vaping?

"Vaping" is the slang phrase that's used to describe using an electronic cigarette or a battery-powered heated device to inhale an aerosolized solution, Dr. Neptune says. This liquid solution typically contains nicotine, flavoring, chemical additives, and propylene glycol. "So, when person says that vaping is like inhaling water vapor, that's distinctly untrue," she says.

How does vaping affect your health?

E-cigarettes are considered newish devices, so researchers still don't know the full scope of what the long-term health effects of vaping will be. That said, they're definitely not harmless, and research has shown that the chemicals in e-cigarette fluid can be incredibly damaging to your health beyond just the nicotine, Dr. Neptune says.

Does vaping affect your lungs?

Studies suggest that there's a much higher incidence of cough and worsening of asthma symptoms in people who vape versus people who don't, Dr. Neptune says. Chemicals in vaping fluid also can cause acute lung injuries and contribute to lung and cardiovascular disease down the line, according to the American Lung Association.

Can you get cancer from vaping?

Again, it's too soon to say, but many of the common vaping solutions contain measurable levels of well-known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde and acrolein, Dr. Neptune says. "Given that, there is at least a theoretical risk of developing malignancy with chronic and frequent exposure," she says. What's of "terrific concern" among researchers, though, is the fact that young people who start off vaping have a much greater chance of transitioning to conventional cigarettes, which we know cause cancer, she adds.

Is vaping worse than smoking?

Right off the bat, smoking is far more toxic than vaping, Dr. Neptune says. "Smoking generates thousands of chemicals that can have adverse effects on the lung and the body," she says. But the answer to this question is far more nuanced than that, because we know more about smoking conventional cigarettes, Dr. Neptune says. "We know that it’s more toxic, but that’s not really the issue," she says. What is an issue? "Vaping has developed a far more appealing habit and practice among children and young adults, so it represents its own public health menace," she adds.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.

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