To vape or not to vape? Is vaping a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes?

Published: Monday, April 17, 2023
Family Medicine Resident (PGY-1)

It was a cool summer night, me and my family had just finished our dinner, and everything seemed so right. The way that cool summer breeze hit your face, you couldn’t help but close your eyes and take a deep breath to take it all in. That moment of tranquility would be brought to a halt as I felt sticky, warm steam enter my lungs. Oddly enough the smell was reminiscent of a grape lollipop. When I turned around, I saw my younger cousins indulging in a vape pen and passing it amongst themselves. It made me reflect on how I hated seeing my father and uncles smoking cigarettes, because I knew each puff was slowly eating away at their lives. I couldn’t help but think to myself that the youth I saw around me had adopted those same habits with a technological upgrade.

What is vaping?

E-cigarettes or vape pens have liquid that may contain flavors, solvents, and nicotine. Heating this liquid generates an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs in a process referred to as vaping. One common liquid that is vaped is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that some people claim can help them with chronic pain. However, given how new vaping is, the long-term health effects are still unknown and recent research suggests that the harm may far outweigh any benefit. This was particularly true for 17-year-old Ament from Gross Pointe, Michigan that required a lung transplant due to severe vaping related injury.

In recent years there has been a growing concern over severe lung injury associated with vaping especially with counterfeit vaping products. This disease has been coined EVALI, or E-cigarette and Vaping Associated Lung Illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 2807 cases or deaths due to EVALI. The symptoms of EVALI include shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain. One of the main culprits that leads to EVALI is Vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent found within THC.

So why would anybody want to try vaping you may ask? Well there are several reasons including the pleasure of over 8000 flavors with favorites including menthol/mint. Other reasons include wanting to try something cool and new, and using them as a bridge for possible smoking cessation.

Is it safer to vape?

Numerous surveys have shown that cigarette users believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than your classical tobacco smoking and that they aid them in cigarette cessation. However, contrary to this belief there has been no clear-cut evidence to suggest that this is the case. In a recent randomized clinical trial only 9.9% in a nicotine replacement group and 18% in an E-cigarette group were found to be abstinent of tobacco smoking at a 1-year follow-up – with 80% continuing to use their E-cigarette.  

Today, those who vape should be worried about COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease. This is a disease typically associated with life-long smoking, that causes lung damage leading to air trapping in the lungs. Data collected from numerous telephone surveys in the United States revealed increased odds of self-reporting COPD and Asthma amongst E-cigarette users, including those that never smoked.  

Like cigarettes, vape pens also carry a high nicotine content with some research suggesting that it can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Vape pen users can get even more nicotine content than cigarettes due to extra strength cartridges carrying a higher concentration of nicotine.

Treatment options

Due to this, treatment and management of vaping cessation involves a multifaceted approach. This includes nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) given in combination with behavioral support. NRT can include three types that are sold without prescription to adults and include patches, lozenges, or gum. If you are younger than 18 years old, then you will need a prescription. Two other options are nasal spray and an oral inhaler but a prescription by your doctor is needed regardless of age.

In conclusion

So, is vaping still the better option compared to cigarette smoking? It’s clear that more evidence is needed to evaluate the long-term effects of vaping. However, given the recent information we have about EVALI and the correlation between COPD and asthma, there appears to be strong mounting evidence against their use – even as smoking replacements.

Next time you’re at a function with your vaping family members, tell them to put that pen down, and take a whiff of that fresh air. Their lungs might end up thanking them in the long run.

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more about the effects of vaping, please visit the links found below.

Interested in quitting smoking – cigarette or e-cigarettes? Make an appointment with an NGPG Family Medicine provider today.