How harmful is vaping?

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In our modern society, it’s likely that you’ve encountered or seen something known as “vaping.” This has become a trend that has picked up in popularity over the years. The Government of Canada defines vapes as devices that “use electrical power from a battery to heat a liquid solution. The heat causes the solution to become vapourized. The vapour then condenses into an aerosol, which is breathed in by the user through the mouthpiece.”

The variety of flavours and the technology of it all seems attractive on the surface, but in terms of health it raises the question: when you look past the vape clouds, how harmful are they really? The answer at this point is hard to say. The issue is that products such as vapes, e-cigarettes and juuls are marketed as ‘better’ than traditional cigarettes; but is this truly the case? What we do know is that “vapes” have the capability to contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. The case can be made that the ability to adjust the nicotine level can be helpful for people trying to quit smoking. Additionally, there aren’t the same harmful chemicals in modern day vape “pods” that are contained in cigarettes, but does that mean the different flavour chemicals are any better for our lungs? Well, there are contradictory findings. Because of how new these products are, there is a lack of clear statistical evidence to suggest how harmful or different the results of inhaling of this vapour is in the long term in comparison to cigarette smoke. One of the main points of concern is the chemicals in the flavours, including diacetyl, which has been linked to lung disease.

The concerning aspect of the vape craze has been the effect it can have on youth. According to the Government of Canada, “youth are susceptible to the harmful effects of nicotine, including addiction. They may become dependent on nicotine with lower levels of exposure than adults.” Nicotine is also known to affect memory and concentration and alter teen brain development. It’s also added on the “risks of vaping” web page, provided by the Government of Canada, that exposure to nicotine during adolescence may cause reduced impulse control and cognitive and behavioural problems.

On the other hand, the good news is, statistically, the number of Canadian citizens that smoke cigarettes regularly has been on a decline for quite some time now. “There were meaningful declines in the smoking rates across most age groups in the 2001 to 2011 period,” according to statistics Canada. Rightfully so, given the knowledge we now possess of smoking and its effect on the body, which is so detrimental that it is the number one leading cause for premature death in the country. But the rise of vapes has ultimately grown alongside this decline in cigarette smoking. Once again, the most vulnerable area where we’ve seen this has been with youth, as the percentage of teenagers who have tried e-cigarettes almost quadrupled over just four years, from 5 per cent in 2011 to 19 per cent in 2015 according to the National Centre for Health Research. This could be due to the fact that originally vapes were quite accessible and a lack of legislation allowed them to slip through the cracks. Critics of vapes see them as somewhat of an entrance point to nicotine use and addiction because of their harmless appearance and because they have earned the label of “cool”. The Ontario government has since reacted by updating the Smoke Free Ontario Act to include regulations regarding vaping. In the past, vapes were given a pass with indoor use but now “you cannot smoke or vape in any enclosed workplace, any enclosed public place and other places designated as smoke-free,” the Act reads, as of its update in 2017.

The penalties for failure to obey these rules are hefty, as it carries a fine of 1,000 for first time offenders if convicted. This fine can balloon to 5,000 for any further offences. In terms of your own personal usage of vapes, it would be wise to exercise caution and educate yourself further on the risks associated with nicotine addiction.

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