Teens today are more reluctant to smoke cigarettes than their counterparts nearly three decades ago. BUT . . . hold that collective sigh of relief. A more worrisome trend has taken over – VAPING.
The popularity of vaping or smoking of e-cigarettes is rapidly increasing in South Africa, with vape stores appearing in malls and restaurants, making it easy for the youth to have access. The industry is definitely targeting our youth by introducing flavours that grab their fancy
Your teen could be one of the many who you will find pulling on metal devices, shrouded in clouds of aromatic smoke having bought into the trend of vaping, a much-hailed safer alternative to cigarettes and touted to the effective way to give up conventional smoking.
To vape is to inhale vapour created from a liquid heated up inside a device. From there, things quickly get complicated. The devices have many names – vape pens, pod mods, tanks, electronic nicotine delivery devices (ENDS), e-hookahs and e-cigarettes.
The liquid they contain also has many nicknames – e-juice, e-liquid, cartridges, pods, or oil. Most vape liquids are a combination of propylene glycol or glycerol commonly known as glycerine as a base, and nicotine, marijuana, or flavouring chemicals to produce common or outlandish flavours, from mint to “unicorn puke.” The devices rely on batteries to power heating elements made of various materials that aerosolise the liquid.
A specific type of vaping device called the “pod mod” is used with a vape liquid made nicotine salts found in loose-leaf tobacco instead of the traditional free-base nicotine found in most e-cigarette liquid which may allow the user to experience a higher and more addictive concentration of nicotine, according to a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists 93 harmful or potentially harmful chemicals found in regular cigarettes, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) describes cigarettes as having more than 7,000 chemicals in them. E-cigarettes contain fewer chemicals and so the industry has presented them as a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes. But vape liquids can still contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug.
In trials carried out by scientists at New York University on laboratory mice DNA damage in the hearts, lungs and bladders of mice exposed to the vapours was found. This damage wasn’t found in a control group of animals that breathed ordinary filtered air.
Natural DNA repair mechanisms were also found to be suppressed in the mice exposed to the smoke. It was concluded that nicotine inhaled from e-cigarettes could be converted into chemicals that damage DNA and slow down the body’s genetic repair mechanisms.
The same was found when exposing human lung and bladder cells to nicotine and its breakdown products made the cells turn into tumour tissue more easily.
The team concluded that although vaping delivers fewer cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke, e-cigarette smokers might have a higher risk of developing lung and bladder cancer as well as heart disease.
But some dismiss these findings as irrelevant to human smokers as the study looked at the effect of e-cigarettes on mice and it’s not possible to draw conclusions about how vaping affects humans.
Peter Hajek, director of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine’s says that as the animals were exposed to extremely large doses of nicotine, this can’t be compared to the consumption of vapour in humans. He also adds that “research in people has shown that those who make a switch from smoking tobacco to e-cigarettes can significantly reduce their exposure to the key harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke.”
However, after the Tang study, another published in the European Respiratory Journal European suggested users of e-cigarettes might be at higher risk of lung infection. A series of three experiments were conducted at Queen Mary University and the results revealed a sharp increase in the number of bacteria sticking to airway cells after e-cigarette exposure.
This has previously been shown to increase people’s susceptibility to disease. Other aids used for quitting such as nicotine patches or gum don’t result in airway cells being exposed to high concentrations of potentially toxic compounds.
Peter Openshaw, an experimental medicine professor at Imperial College London, says any evidence that vaping raised the risk of lung infection was only indirect.
South African experts, like Professor Michael Herbst of the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) believe that there is no scientific evidence that vaping is safer than smoking. His argument is based on the fact that very little scientific research has been conducted on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on the human body.
Savera Kalideen, executive director of the National Council against Smoking, says it considers vaping less harmful than smoking cigarettes but not harmless and agrees with Professor Herbst that not enough evidence is available to show that e-cigarettes have been linked to damage and inflammation of the airways and lung disease, as well as stiffening of the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
However, she does advocate that those who want to give up smoking should do so without the aid of e-cigarettes.
Probably the worst thing a parent could do for their child would be to buy an e-cigarette under the misconception that this might prevent them from smoking regular cigarettes.
Rather talk openly and freely about vaping providing accurate information. Many times the problem is that parents lose credibility if they say something to try and convince their child, who then finds out that it isn’t true.
Explaining the addictive nature of vaping, which would mess with the one thing teens crave the most: independence. Addiction means losing your freedom of choice and could be a persuasive message.
When you are out and about with your children and see an advertisement, for example, take the opportunity to talk about it and as they grow older, parents can expand on their thoughts and expectations.
What may be the most important message of all is that e-cigarettes and vaping come with many health unknowns.