What is vaping?
Vaping products (electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes) are devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled (breathed in) into the lungs. These devices are commonly called vapes, mods, e-hookahs, tank systems and vape pens. They may all look a bit different, but work in similar ways.
The liquid (sometimes referred to as e-juice) in a vape product contains a combination of ingredients, usually including nicotine (the highly addictive drug found in tobacco products), propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine and flavouring. Many of these substances are considered safe for ingestion (eating); however, when these liquids are heated they create new chemicals that may not be safe to inhale. For example, the heating process can create chemicals like formaldehyde and other contaminants such as nickel, tin and aluminum.
Flavours & Youth
There are more than 7,000 flavours of e-juice available to lure young Canadians and kids. These range from cotton candy to chocolate or mango. Young people are drawn to flavours more than any other group. In fact, more than 83 per cent of young e-cigarette users (15-19 years of age) report using fruit and candy/dessert flavoured vapes. Dressing up a nicotine-based product with candy and dessert flavoured names hides the product’s harm and increases its appeal. There is more to flavoured e-juices than hides behind the vapour.
Aside from addicting a new generation of Canadians to nicotine, there are a lot of unknown health risks.
While the chemicals used in flavoured e-juices have been tested as safe for eating, they have not been tested for inhalation. When heated, the liquids create chemicals that could cause long-term harm to the lungs. The heating process can create chemicals like formaldehyde and other contaminants such as nickel, tin and aluminum.
Flavours were banned in tobacco because of their clear marketing toward young people and vaping should not be treated any differently. Eliminating inviting flavours from vaping products is essential to protecting kids’ lungs.
What are the health effects of vaping?
Any time we breathe in anything other than medication or fresh air into our lungs, there is a potential to cause harm. Vaping is no different. We are still collecting more research to fully understand the long-term health effects to inform Canadians. But at this point, we do already know that there is harm connected to vaping.
- Nicotine dependence: vaping products contain large amounts of nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug. For instance, 1 Juul Pod (Juul is one brand name of a vaping product) has the same amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes (approximately one pack). This means people may develop dependence quickly and it may even increase your chances of smoking traditional cigarettes.
- Negative lung health effects of tobacco use include worsening of existing lung conditions, lung cancer and COPD among others.
- Short-term symptoms: Individuals should watch for signs of cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. These may be signs of lung damage. If you are experiencing these symptoms, seek medical attention.
- Lung disease: Vaping can make asthma and other existing lung diseases worse. Breathing in the harmful chemicals from vaping products can cause irreversible (cannot be cured) lung damage, lung disease and, in some cases, death. Some chemicals in vaping products can also cause cardiovascular disease and biological changes that are associated with cancer development.
The evidence to support vaping as a smoking cessation tool is inconclusive. Those who smoke intending to quit smoking by using vaping devices should make an informed decision and know that vaping may provide a less harmful alternative but it still carries risk. The potential harms need to be considered before making a decision to vape. It is also important that people know that the use of vaping products has also been linked to initiation of cigarette smoking, which could lead to an endless cycle of smoking behaviour and nicotine addiction. More research needs to be done to find out whether vaping products can be considered a safer cessation (quitting) tool.
Individuals wanting to quit should try evidence-based methods (counseling, nicotine replacement products and prescription drugs) first and consult with a medical professional to determine the best approach to help them quit all products, including exploring a number of existing pharmaceutical and therapy-based methods that are evidence -based.
- Learn the facts: Vaping is not without risk and so understanding the potential short and long-term health outcomes before vaping is recommended.
- Youth, those who do not smoke, pregnant women and people who have quit smoking should not vape.
- Younger people should be educated to understand their increased risk of nicotine addiction compared with the general population and should be strongly encouraged to not try or start vaping.
- If you smoke and are using vaping to quit, e-cigarettes may be less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Things to consider:
- Monitor for symptoms affecting your lung health and let your healthcare provider know you vape.
- Do not smoke and vape during the same time period.
- Talk to a health professional about options for quitting.
- The ultimate goal is to quit all nicotine products, including vaping.