By Lena Stange, USAG Wiesbaden Public AffairsNovember 20, 2018
WIESBADEN, Germany -- People have different reasons for trying out e-cigarettes. Some wish to quit or reduce smoking, others just hope for a healthier alternative. Some people are attracted by the many different flavors, and others might just be curious.
"So, many people, even some of our staff here, use vaping as an alternative to cigarette smoking," said Maj. Erika Petrick, deputy commander for Clinical Services at the Wiesbaden Army Health Clinic, "and what they don't realize is that it is probably more dangerous.
"We have had smoking of tobacco for thousands of years. We did not know it caused lung cancer … It was controversial at first because it took a long period of time in someone's life before there was an effect of the smoke, but vaping has only been out in the U.S. since 2007," Petrick said.
Advertisers present vaping as an entirely harmless habit. They label ingredients as natural, or as generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Petrick said. They do not mention, however, that natural substances can be toxic, too, and that the additives were approved by FDA only for oral consumption not for inhalation.
How does vaping actually work? A liquid that usually consists of glycerin, propylene glycol, nicotine and flavoring is heated by a heating coil; this process produces the vapor. If inhaled, the vapor might be the cause of several health risks, Petrick said.
Among the adverse effects of nicotine are decreased learning ability, altered immune function and possible increased risk of thrombosis, just to name a few. Glycerin is known for causing lung irritation, and propylene glycol is a potential carcinogen.
Not only can the liquid itself cause health problems, but also the flavorings. Some of them are irritants to the lungs, eyes and mucus membranes and might even cause an irreversible loss of pulmonary functions, Petrick said. By 2014, there were already over 7,000 flavors on the market.
Vaping devices also provide your lungs with particulate matter which is associated with cardiovascular diseases, she said.
To young children, the flavored liquids seem to be tasty little treats which, however, put their lives in danger when ingested. One teaspoon is potentially lethal for children, Petrick said, while smaller amounts can cause nausea and vomiting.
Among older children, an alarming trend has occurred. While smoking generally has decreased according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, the use of e-cigarettes is on the rise. 5.3 percent of all U.S. e-cigarette users are in middle school and 16 percent are in high school.
So, may it still be a means to help quit smoking? A meta study suggested that this is usually not the case. The odds of quitting cigarettes are 28 percent lower if a smoker uses e-cigarettes. Many smokers use vaping in addition to smoking, Petrick explained.
"I want people to start thinking of the vapor not as water vapor, but as toxic vapor," Petrick said. "It's not water vapor. That smoke stays in the air for a reason."