VAPING. Get the 411.
What is Vaping?
“Vaping” is the use of electronic or “e-cigarettes”, which first hit the U.S. market in 2006. These devices contain nicotine-based liquid, a battery, and a heating element that heats up the “e-juice” until it produces an aerosol mist, which is then inhaled by the user. The terms “vaping” and “e-cigarettes” generally mean the same thing. However, the term “e-cigarette” is commonly used to refer to the smaller, often cigarette-shaped and in some cases disposable “pens” or cartridges sold at major retail stores. These include products made by brands such as Juul Labs and Blu. The term “vaping,” on the other hand, is more often used when referring to use of larger, more sophisticated handheld devices that have a refillable tank, which accepts e-juice sold in bottles.
The liquids and prefilled cartridges usually are offered at various nicotine strengths and in different flavors, depending on user preference. Some e-juices contain no nicotine at all, for people who want the experience of smoking but without the nicotine or wish to gradually step down from e-juice that contains nicotine.
Vaping is often said to be a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, which contain tobacco, nicotine, and thousands of chemicals, including over 60 that are known to cause cancer (carcinogenic). E-juice is mostly composed of nicotine, flavorings, a propellant (usually glycerin and/or propylene glycol), and additives. Although some experts consider vaping to be less harmful than smoking, the science is still out about the ultimate safety of vaping, as it hasn’t adequately been studied over many years as cigarettes have been.
In recent weeks, numerous news reports have linked vaping to serious lung damage and multiple deaths. A closer look at these reports suggests that some of these cases may involve certain vaping cartridges or liquids – possibly from the black market – that contain THC (the chemical in marijuana that causes intoxication), along with a vitamin E additive. Vitamin E can become toxic when heated up in vaping devices, but vitamin E usually isn’t present in nicotine-based e-cigarettes or e-juice sold commercially.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Oct. 1, 2019, nearly 1,100 cases of lung injury associated with vaping have been reported in 48 states and 1 U.S. territory, and 18 deaths have been confirmed in 15 states. All reported cases have a history of nicotine-based e-cigarette use, and in most of these cases, patients report having also used e-cigarettes containing THC.
In short, it’s unclear at this time whether standard, nicotine-based e-cigarettes played a role in the reported deaths and lung damage. Either way, the media coverage has prompted new conversations about the safety of nicotine vaping and concerns that teenagers are becoming addicted to it. In many cases, teens begin vaping without ever smoking traditional cigarettes, highlighting the fact that vaping isn’t only being used to kick the smoking habit. Still, there is recent, solid evidence suggesting that e-cigarettes do help people quit smoking traditional cigarettes, though their addiction to nicotine continues in most cases.
More News from UAB Medicine