While Safer Than Smoking, Vaping Still Poses Health Risks — Especially for Teens

A major review of clinical data finds that vaping is safer than cigarettes by most measures. But while vaping certainly appears to help some groups quit smoking, it may present dangers — especially for young people. 

The report, carried out by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, analyzed data gleaned from over 800 clinical studies in an attempt to examine the role — if any — that vaping and e-cigarettes might play in public health.

E-cigarette technology is relatively new, so the existing data about its benefits and consequences remains limited. That said, initial findings suggest that, by most measures, vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco, and the practice may help smokers to quit or at least cut down on cigarettes.

However, other studies indicate that teens may adopt a vaping habit when they otherwise would’ve stayed clear of cigarettes. And some researchers believe that vaping could be a gateway to smoking cigarettes.

The experts in this latest review, entitled “Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes,” say that vaping has the potential to significantly reduce the harms of traditional smoking by moving people to what appears to be a less harmful substitute. Even so, researchers found relevant and pressing concerns related to vaping technology — particularly where young users are concerned.

“In some circumstances, such as their use by non-smoking adolescents and young adults, their adverse effects clearly warrant concern,” explained David Eaton of the University of Washington. “In other cases, such as when adult smokers use them to quit smoking, they offer an opportunity to reduce smoking-related illness.”

The report found that vaping could serve as part of a treatment program for people who want to quit smoking. Researchers also recognized that vaping technology appears to be considerably less damaging than traditional cigarettes. But the report doesn’t characterize vaping as risk-free, pointing to several studies that clearly demonstrate the toxins present in vaping solutions — and not in traditional cigarettes.

The harms of so-called passive vaping — that is, breathing in the fog of someone else’s vaping activity – remain unknown, but the World Health Organization  has warned against vaping in confined spaces.

Proponents of vaping and e-cigarette technology contend that the the net effect of vaping appears to be positive when compared to smoking cigarettes. However, the report stops short of supporting the habit by emphasizing that the long-term risks have yet to be determined.

Studies exploring the risk of mouth and throat cancers are still mixed at this point in time. And traces of metals in the vapor emitted by e-cigarettes remain a cause for concern, not to mention the formaldehyde present in many vape mixes. Formaldehyde can damage human DNA, but it’s not yet clear if the concentrations present in vape solutions are enough to cause harm.

Nevertheless, a large body of evidence reveals the cancer risks from smoking, and vaping solutions contain far fewer of those particular cancer-causing chemicals. If adults switch completely to vaping, they may substantially cut their risk of certain cancers, and in this context, the report suggests that vaping presents potentially life-saving applications.

But what about teenagers?

The report expresses concern that the body of evidence available shows that the many fruity flavors and delivery systems associated with vaping could tempt young people to begin vaping.

Researchers also find convincing evidence that vaping may in fact work as a gateway toward smoking. Meanwhile, the FDA, troubled by these findings, believes that “regulatory gateways” — like a nationwide ban on the sale of vaping technology to adolescents — may be the best solution.

So what can we take away from this report?

Researchers caution that vaping has been rushed to the market, even though it is a relatively under tested product — particularly when billed as a health intervention.

The Guardian notes that young people are particularly interested in vaping:

American teens are already using e-cigarettes at high rates. The US’s largest survey of adolescent drug use, the Monitoring the Future survey, found one-third (35.8%) had tried vaping by the end of high school. Some 26.6% had tried smoking.

And there, it seems, is the point. While vaping may be less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes, it still carries potentially significant health risks — especially for teens.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Fox/Flickr

37 comments

Renata B
Renata B4 months ago

To be better than smoking doesn't mean to be good or simply harmless.

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Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

thanks

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Carole R
Carole R11 months ago

Yucky habit. Nearing as bad as smoking, if you ask me.

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R11 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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Winn A
Winn A11 months ago

Seriously????????????? - It's NOT safe period.

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Renata K
Renata Kovacs11 months ago

Thank you for sharing..

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Yan Yan
Yan Yan11 months ago

"Safer than smoking..."

REALLY???

Vaping is no more than safe than doing traditional smoking.

E-Cigs Exposed: Not a Safe Alternative to Smoking > https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/12/21/e-cigarettes-not-safe-alternative-to-smoking.aspx

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Anne M
Anne M11 months ago

Still inhaling poison...

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Ann B
Ann B11 months ago

all the old movies had smokers - teen s have always thot smoking was cool- and for what they all cost these days --not to mention the medical costs down the road...make s no sense

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Angela J
Angela J11 months ago

Thanks

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