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Is Vaping Safe? The Latest Perspective


It's been a few years now since e-cigarettes became available and widely used, and in that time we've seen various arguments in the press about how 'safe' compared to smoking it truly is. Only a couple of years ago, articles appeared in the British press which professed that vaping was completely safe. Now some sources are saying that not only is it unsafe, but it's also a potential gateway to smoking real tobacco, which is precisely what vaping set out to avoid. So what's the truth?

Too close to smoking?

There is no denying the concrete link between vaping and smoking the traditional way. E-cigarettes, or 'vapes' as they're increasingly more commonly known, are designed to imitate the look and function of regular cigarettes. They're shaped the same way, they're inhaled the same way, and they give off smoke the same way when they're used. They also contain nicotine, which is what makes smoking so addictive in the first place. If you're already addicted to nicotine, moving on to vaping isn't particularly likely to help you quit smoking on its own.

The received wisdom is that they're better for you than cigarettes because they don't contain any tar, nor many of the other chemicals which have been known to cause cancer and other health conditions. At first, medical professionals cautiously welcomed them on this basis, believing they would lead to a reduction in smoking-related health conditions in years to come. Research that has been performed since has shown that this may not be the case.

A chemical cocktail

Vaping does not just involve inhaling and exhaling nicotine. Nicotine is not a gas, and therefore cannot be smoked without various other chemical agents being involved in the process. A detailed scientific study into the topic has revealed that some of those chemical agents are hazardous to us, and also have the potential to cause irritations and more severe illnesses, including cancer. The level of risk isn't the same as that which exists in tobacco cigarettes, but for many people who now assume they're living healthily because they're not 'really' smoking anymore, that isn't good news.

The full results of the studies were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and combined with further research into the smoking habits of people who used e-cigarettes regularly. They believe that some of the chemicals in vape smoke stimulate the same areas of the brain that become active when other, harder drugs are consumed. As such, there's a risk that vaping could be a 'gateway' into smoking other substances, although there's as of yet no concrete evidence for such a suggestion.

Better than the alternative?

The simple answer to the question 'how safe is vaping?' is 'not particularly safe,' but the real issue runs a lot deeper than that. Most people who vape are former smokers, who remain the target audience for most e-cigarettes when it comes to marketing. Were there evidence that non-smokers were being attracted to the idea of smoking by the existence of vapes, that would be a different matter, but there isn't. For those who used to smoke but now smoke electronic cigarettes instead, the question is different.

With former smokers, the question they really want the answer to would be 'is smoking e-cigarettes better for me than smoking,' and the answer to that question is 'yes.' While not smoking anything at all would be the best option for an individual's health by some distance, if you must smoke something, you're better off with an e-cigarette than the conventional alternative.

What's the true long term health picture?

As vaping is still a relatively new habit, the science and research behind it are also relatively new. As we saw at the start of this article, that's led to different sources publishing differing advice. Going back to Britain for a moment, vaping is considered to be so safe there that the Royal College of Physicians has advocated for doctors to be able to recommend vaping as a health solution for their smoking patients. That would suggest solid medical opinion has been formed that the long term health risks are negligible, or are at least negligible when compared to smoking.

On the other hand, there is still some scientific data that suggests prolonged use causes stiffening of the arteries; a symptom that's common in people who have smoked for years, and can lead to severe health conditions and difficulties with blood circulation. The sample that was used to provide the set of data which suggested the problem was small, and more extensive studies are now being performed to confirm the finding. If verified, that could change the medical position concerning vaping completely. Just as tobacco cigarettes were once thought to be good for the body because they increased the heart rate, we could be making the dangerous assumption that e-cigarettes are good for you just because they don't immediately cause the same symptoms as tobacco cigarettes.

So should you stop, start or carry on?

That's up to you as an individual. We certainly wouldn't recommend starting unless you're already a smoker. Stopping immediately may not be advisable if you're addicted to nicotine and likely to revert back to cigarettes. Carrying on may or may not have long term health implications, but is certainly better for you than smoking tobacco.

Ultimately, smoking bears a lot of comparisons to that other old vice of gambling. Both of them have long been the subject of negative press attention because of perceived addiction and health risks. In recent years, they've become increasingly electronic in their format, with cigarettes replaces by e-cigarettes, and the slot machines of old replaced by online slots. Whether it's e-cigarettes or online slots, you're probably not doing yourself any harm so long as you exercise moderation and common sense, and for many people, the habits are part of what brings joy to their lives. Neither physicians nor regulators really want to take that away; they just want to ensure that we enjoy our vices as healthily as possible.

Vaping may not be completely safe, but then nothing is, and there's no reason to say goodbye to the habit just yet if it makes you happy.