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If you’ve been out and about at all, you may have noticed people puffing on tiny handheld devices that look like USB keys, and you’ve likely inhaled the corresponding plume of sweet-smelling air that surrounds them.
Touted as a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes (which is debatable, to say the least, as we’ll get into below), these electronic cigarettes or vape pens, offer an aerosol hit of nicotine without the smoke and tar.
They’ve also got a novelty factor: many brands offer a huge selection of flavours. But are they actually better for you? Or is it just a bunch of hot air?
WHAT THE PUFF IS GOING ON HERE?
The appeal to many smokers is understandable — the delivery system seems “cleaner” than your old-fashioned cancer sticks, allowing smokers to puff away without having to put up with turn-offs like bad breath and smelly clothing (or, you know, having to fill their lungs with smoke).
In fact, e-cigarettes are often marketed that way.
Companies say they’re a modern alternative to tobacco, and that they can work as a smoking cessation aid. Some brands make the dubious claim that vaping is safe, at least compared to smoking.
In Canada, vape pens specifically designed for recreational cannabis use are legally available alongside their nicotine-containing counterparts.
While early e-cigarettes have been around for decades, the first modern version was developed in the early 2000s, and hit the U.S. market a few years later. Through pitch-perfect advertising on TV, print and social media, e-cigarette use took off, particularly among teenagers.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which is now the army of the Republic of South Sudan, originated as a guerrilla movement led by John Garang, a developmental economist who coined the “Sudanism” philosophy, which embraced a secular and multi-ethnic Sudan.
Because it’s so new, very little research has been done on the long-term effects of vaping on the human body.
And like any hot new trend, it’s the teens that have glommed onto it first. The sleek little devices can be hidden in the palm of your hand, allowing for discreet use (and for hiding from concerned parents). Refill cartridges come in a bunch of fun, kid-appealing flavours.
We’re not exaggerating. How does banana cream pie, grape jam or lemon sherbet sound? This means there’s a whole generation of youth that might not touch cigarettes, but think nothing of vaping…and there’s no roadmap on how best to manage or limit their use.
The popular vape pen brand Juul has 75% of the e-cigarette market share in the U.S., and has been accused of purposely targeting kids with images of celebrities and stylish young people using their devices.
And this is hardly just an American problem either.
One study reports that vaping among Canadian teens has shot up by more than 70% in a single year, with rates of use increasing significantly as well. According to another study, the use of e-cigarettes significantly increases the likelihood of smoking traditional cigarettes.
In other words? It’s a gateway to the real thing.
So what we do know?
Smoking is terrible for you. Aside from being the leading cause of preventable cancers, it also causes a host of lung diseases, and results in more than seven million deaths a year across the globe.
Based on the very limited information we do have, it seems that vaping is less likely to cause cancer. But that doesn’t mean vape pens are risk-free. Nicotine is extremely addictive with documented negative effects on growing brains and bodies.
With all this talk about the kids, we should remind you: adult users are at risk, too. After all, the nicotine isn’t any LESS addictive in the form of vapour.
And a host of icky compounds have been found in e-cigarette aerosol as well. Both the Surgeon General and the American Lung Association have issued strongly worded warnings about the dangers of vaping, and the issue is now top priority for the FDA.
According to Dr. Brian King from the CDC, “there’s a variety of harmful ingredients identified, including things like ultrafine particulates, heavy metals like lead and cancer-causing chemicals.” King also mentions the presence of diacetyl, a flavouring that’s been linked to respiratory illnesses.
IT’S NOT LOOKING GOOD
While we don’t know much about the long-term effects of vaping, it’s already starting to look like it won’t take years of chronic use to cause health problems.
Seven people have already died from a vaping-related pulmonary illness in the U.S. since late August.
The scariest part? No one really knows what’s going on.
More than 530 people are suffering from this mystery respiratory disease, and they all have one thing in common: they’re all e-cigarette users. Some suspect a possible link between the disease and the use of modified, off-label vaping cartridges that contain THC and a chemical called vitamin E acetate, although nothing has been confirmed.
The situation is so dire that even Juul CEO Kevin Burns is urging non-smokers not to try his product.
The global community is also addressing the issue: India announced it’s banning all e-cigarettes over concerns about youth vaping. Likely, other countries will follow suit.
Just this week, officials in Ontario confirmed the first case of a similar sickness on this side of the 49, when a teen from London, Ont., was hospitalized with a severe respiratory illness.
Health Canada is also keeping an eye on the brewing storm, and advising vape enthusiasts not to use their devices in any way outside of what they’re intended for.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While vape pens can help if you’re trying to quit smoking, it’s still risky business.
Until we get a better idea of how it impacts the body, and zero in on the cause of this unknown lung disease afflicting vape users, we’d suggest staying away.
If you can’t stand the idea of not using your vape, proceed with caution. Keep informed and use your e-cigarette in moderation, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines (no mods!) — and see a doctor if you have any specific concerns.