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8 ways e-cigarettes are worse for your health than you think

Studies are linking vaping to some serious health concerns

A close-up of a man vaping
A close-up of a man vaping

At first glance, e-cigarettes are the artificial sweeteners of this decade. Take something that causes numerous health risks and give people a way to enjoy the benefits, minus the harm. Everybody wins, right?

But, dig a little deeper and you might get a shock.

E-cigarettes are small battery-operated devices similar in size to a pen, which heat a liquid solution, usually containing nicotine, into a vapour. Because users inhale the vapour rather than the more harmful tobacco smoke, ‘vaping’ is marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking.

But, just like studies showed that artificial sweeteners weren’t all they’re cracked up to be, new studies are coming out that are linking vaping to some pretty serious health concerns.

Related: How I successfully quit: Three ex-smokers share their stories

Health risks associated with vaping

1. Modifying ingredients can be deadly

While it’s illegal to buy fluid cartridges that contain nicotine in Australia (and some countries have banned e-cigarettes altogether), it’s possible to buy the cartridges illegally or bring them in from overseas. However unlike cigarettes, which are regulated in Australia, purchasing fluid cartridges illegally means you don’t always know what’s in them.

In 2019 so far, US authorities have linked seven deaths and 530 cases of lung disease to e-cigarettes. Experts are yet to discern whether vaping itself caused the illness, or if immune responses to the chemicals within the vapours are to blame (which vary from brand to brand). The investigation is ongoing, however, it’s been suggested that the cause could be related to the toxic compounds that can occur when users add ingredients such as THC oil (found in cannabis). Many of these compounds come from the black market and can be contaminated with pesticides and heavy metal.

2. Lung disease, cancer and other damage to the respiratory system

In addition to the above cases of lung disease, The British Medical Journal published a study showing that vaping has been linked to wheezing and an increase in respiratory symptoms, most likely caused by inflammation in users’ airways.

Vaping has also been known to paralyse the cilia, the tiny hair-like structures that filter dirt and microorganisms from the lungs. Without their protection, your risk of infections such as pneumonia increase.

Some substances in e-cigarette vapour have also been linked to cancer. However, just as it took years to know the true health effects of cigarettes, it’s still too early to tell to what degree.

Regardless of whether nicotine is delivered via vapour or a tobacco cigarette, it will still increase your risk of cardiovascular problems.

3. Cardiovascular problems (heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure)

The effects of nicotine on the heart are well researched. And regardless of whether the nicotine is delivered via vapour or a tobacco cigarette, it will still increase your risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks, stroke and death. Nicotine also causes high blood pressure and cholesterol, which put an added strain on the heart.

Even if you purchase nicotine-free cartridges, vaping is still not necessarily safe for your heart. Researchers at the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute found that the flavourings added to e-cigarette fluid cartridges may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Cinnamon flavouring as well as menthol carried the strongest risk.

4. E-cigarettes can explode while in use

It sounds like an urban myth, doesn’t it? But e-cigarette users have reported explosions and burns, and the New England Journal of Medicine even reported a case of a 17-year-old whose e-cigarette exploded in his mouth, fracturing his jaw.

According to Harvard Medical School, most of the reported cases occurred due to defective batteries. If you’re concerned about your own device, here's a list of tips on how to avoid an e-cigarette explosion.

5. Vaping has been linked to seizures

E-cigarettes have been linked to seizures, particularly in young people. The most likely cause is nicotine poisoning. The nicotine concentration in e-cigarette cartridges varies, so it may be that users inhale more than expected, or that there are underlying medical conditions that make them more susceptible to seizures.

One thing that makes assessing the health risks of vaping difficult is that the market is largely unregulated and ingredients are often mislabeled.

Even accidental exposure to e-cigarette fluid has been known to cause acute nicotine poisoning.

6. E-cigarettes emit harmful substances

The Australian Department of Health advised that some substances found in e-cigarettes such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein, are known to cause cancer.

And two of the most common ingredients in e-cigarette fluid, glycerol and propylene, can produce dangerous levels of formaldehyde when overheated, according to research commissioned by The National Health and Medical Research Council.

A recent study found that some fluid cartridges labelled ‘nicotine-free’ were still found to contain nicotine.

7. They are addictive

While many people take up vaping as a means to quit smoking, it’s worth keeping in mind that the nicotine found in e-cigarettes is equally as addictive as the nicotine found in regular cigarettes.

And a recent study found that some fluid cartridges labelled ‘nicotine-free’ were still found to contain nicotine.

8. Not safe for pregnancy

Vaping during pregnancy is not a safe alternative to smoking. Nicotine, however you consume it, is harmful to a developing foetus, known to cause abnormal lung, heart, brain, and immune system development.

Even if the fluid is nicotine-free, a recent study by the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Survey found that it can contain other substances that can harm a developing foetus.

Still tossing up whether to quit? From reducing tooth discolouration to saving money, check out our article 9 reasons to quit smoking today.

If you’re trying to quit smoking, it’s best to visit your GP to get personalised advice; and if you’re an nib member, we can help you with your treatment plan. We offer a range of Extras covers that include benefits for nicotine replacement therapies that are ordered by your GP, including gum, patches, inhalers and lozenges.

You can check your cover by logging into member account or calling 13 16 42.

Not an nib member? You can get a quote in just a few minutes online.