Vaping, is it a safe alternative to cigarettes?

March 25, 2018

In the last few years “Vaping” or “E-Cigarettes” have become very popular.  6 million people in the U.S. have tried or used e-cigarettes, and new “Vape” shops are popping up on every street corner. Although most people vape to quit or decrease smoking or to prevent relapse, there has been a rise in the use of these devices among teenagers and college-aged adults. They are more popular for younger users as they don’t leave the distinct smell of a smoker, and come in a variety of flavor choices. The reality though, is that there hasn’t been enough research done to determine if they truly are a safe alternative to traditional cigarette smoking.

When most of us think of tobacco we think of Nicotine. Nicotine is the addictive agent in tobacco, but is not in itself a carcinogen or cancer causing substance. There are as many as 7,000 chemical additives in traditional cigarettes, 70 of those have been found to be carcinogenic. With electronic cigarettes, it’s not tobacco that’s being burned, but rather a liquid which contains nicotine that is heated and forms a vapor which the user inhales. In addition to nicotine, the liquid usually contains a flavoring agent and other ingredients. A study done in 2016 found the the flavoring agent in e-cigarettes, particularly menthol, exacerbated the effects of the vapor on oral tissues. It was noted that the damage was comparable to that of smoking tobacco. While more research must be done to determine the severity of damage caused by e-cigarettes, early studies are indicating a negative impact on oral health.

Until recently all Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) were very minimally regulated, so it was never clear exactly what was in any given e-liquid.  Another concern, was the marketing of these products. Many felt that teens and young adults were more likely to try these devices because of flavors like cherry cheesecake or bubblegum. In fact, it was found in 2013-2014 that the primary reason for use among 81% of our youth was the endless options of appealing flavors. Without regulations, companies were able to use marketing techniques that actually targeted our younger population. A study found that in 2016 11% of high school students were current users of e-cigarettes. They saw an increase of use by this population from 1.5% to 16% between 2011 and 2015.  Here in Washington State, on April 19th 2016 Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill which “strengthens protections for minors against the sale and use of e-cigarettes and vapor products.” This is the first step here in our state to prevent minors from easily obtaining e-cigarettes. Also in 2016, the FDA finally included a rule that extends regulation by the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) to regulate ENDS in the same way other tobacco products are regulated. As of this year ENDS and their liquids will be required to bear a “Nicotine Addictiveness Warning” on their labels and in advertisements.

Overall, much more research needs to be done regarding the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes. They may contain fewer carcinogens than traditional cigarettes, but much is unknown as this point. There have been few studies done on e-cigarettes and their impact on oral health at this time. As new information is discovered, we will do our best to share that knowledge with you!  If you have any questions regarding vaping at your next appointment, be sure to ask Tricia or Dr. Crane.




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