Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Use of smoking alternatives such as electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or vaping, has been trending upwards in comparison to traditional cigarettes. Originally promoted as a method to help smokers quit smoking and to provide a “safer” alternative, e-cigarettes have increased in popularity among non-smokers. In 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 2.1 million U.S. middle and high schoolers used e-cigarettes.
So, what is the harm? E-cigarettes may be tobacco-free but still contain nicotine. Some even contain higher nicotine levels than traditional cigarettes. Throw in these tasty ingredients: carcinogens formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and nitrosamine, the lung-harming chemical diacetyl, flavorings, traces of lead and calcium, propylene glycol & glycerine, and you have yourself the recipe for the vapor and liquid found in e-cigarettes. Some may also contain cannabis. These ingredients can cause serious health problems. One refillable cartridge can hold 20mg/mL of concentrated nicotine and the lethal dose for a child is 10 mg and 30 mg-60 mg for an adult. The secondhand vapor can still expose others to the nicotine and chemicals. The e-cigarette liquid can also be accidentally ingested by children because it can remain on surfaces for weeks or even months.
What does this mean? Vaping can cause irritation to the respiratory system and eyes. Airway passages may be constricted and some people have reported asthma. The diacetyl in the e-cigarette liquid can cause “popcorn lung” or bronchiolitis obliterans. (something that obliterates your bronchioles does not sound good!) Oral health is attacked by the chemical vapors which cause changes and damage to the oral tissues. Ulcerations and oral cancer can occur in addition to sore throat, dry mouth, coughing, headaches and nausea. In July 2019, 9 people were hospitalized with severe reactions and lung damage from vaping THC (a psychoactive component of cannabis).
What can be done? Therapies that have been approved include the patch, nicotine gum, medication and smoking cessation counseling. In Arizona, people may contact the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline (https://ashline.org/ or 1-800-55-66-222). Regular dental visits and oral exams can help with early detection of oral health problems and provide support for improved overall health. (resources: US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, United States Dept. of Health & Human Services, American Dental Association, Dimensions of Dental Hygiene, Daily Mail UK, Arizona Smokers’ Helpline)