Public Health

The Big Question – 04 – Is vaping risk-free?

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Is vaping risk-free?

Vaping is the act of smoking e-cigarettes, also known as vape pens. These are handheld devices allowing the user to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke. For years, vaping has been pushed as a safer alternative to smoking. However, given the smoking industry’s colourful past, it is easy to see why some people may have some doubts. There have also been some high-profile incidents such as the Juul controversy and instances in which vaping may have caused death.

One of the main issues with vaping is the number of young people who are growing addicted to it. From teenage rebellion to fruit flavours, what started off as a healthier alternative to smoking may now become yet another addiction crisis society has to battle. While vaping is healthier than smoking, this is the only case for those who already smoked. The general advice is that vaping should not be taken up by non-smokers.

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According to an evidence update by Office for Health Improvement & Disparities, a report led by researchers at King’s College London vaping is less harmful than smoking, although this is not the case in non-smokers. At the moment, they have only looked at short-term smoking, meaning that the effects of vaping long-term are still unknown. According to their research, vaping leads to lower exposure to substances that can cause damage to users. They used different biomarkers to measure this. According to the NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms, a biomarker is:

“A biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease.”

NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms

The researchers found no significant increase in the toxicant biomarkers after exposure to second-hand smoke in vapers and non-vapers. With vaping on the rise, this is a good sign. According to the report, the use of disposable vaping products has been on the rise.

A table showing the % increase of people using vaping products in the UK between 2020-2022

Currently, there is no evidence of the effects flavours have, but some products containing cinnamaldehyde – an aldehyde responsible for cinnamon’s taste and smell – have concerned researchers. There is also evidence that some products can cause a change in cell response, but not to the extent seen with tobacco.

Overall, it’s agreed that vaping is less harmful than smoking in the short and medium term. The main issue is the notion that vaping is harmless. It is not risk-free. On this basis, researchers stress that non-smokers should not start vaping and have called for clearer messaging when it comes to marketing vaping products.

A list of side effects associated with vaping

A series of NIH studies found that while not as harmful as cigarettes, continuous vaping can lead to reduced blood vessel function, which is a precursor of heart disease. Those who vape may face the same risk of vascular disease as those who smoke long-term. Another concerning factor is the evidence of high levels of biomarkers in e-cigarette users. Researchers discovered that they were different from the biomarkers found in cigarette smokers. The startling conclusion was that people who smoke and vape face increased risk.

To conclude, while vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking and poses less risk to users and those around them, it is not risk-free.


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