This article was written in partnership with Alberta Lung.
Vaping has become an increasingly popular habit over the last several years, especially among the younger population. Data from a recent Health Canada survey showed that 34 per cent of students in grades seven to 12 have tried an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette). Of those, 28 per cent have tried an e-cigarette with nicotine and 11 per cent have tried an e-cigarette without nicotine. Most students that tried a vaping product had also tried a cigarette. Those are some frightening numbers.
Vaping has become more and more popular partially because it is advertised as a way of consuming nicotine, cannabis and vapours in a way that does less damage to your lungs. However, there is a lot of misinformation being shared that leads to misrepresentation of the severity of vaping.
Here are five common misconceptions about vaping.
- “It smells sweet, so it must be okay to inhale.”
Tobacco companies have a long history of using enticing images, messages and flavours to attract new users. In the 1940s when there were growing concerns about the health risks of smoking in the medical community, Reynolds, a tobacco company, centered its campaign on “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”
Today, vaping companies use flavours, scents and modern packaging to lure youth into using their products.
- “It’s harmless.”
Using e-cigarettes and vaping products can cause e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI). In Canada, most cases of vaping-associated lung illness do not appear to have been associated with the use of THC-containing products. As of August 14, 2020, 20 cases of vaping-associated lung illness have been reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada. No deaths were reported as of that date. Five patients presented with respiratory symptoms only (shortness of breath, cough), and 15 patients presented with a combination of respiratory, gastrointestinal and/or constitutional symptoms, such as fever or weight loss. Of the reported cases, 25 per cent were aged 15 to19 years old. Although it may seem harmless, the science and statistics say otherwise.
- “It’s not a cigarette.”
While vaping is different from smoking as the user is inhaling water vapour as opposed to smoke, it is still dangerous. The user is not inhaling pure water vapour, but a mix of chemicals. In a 2015 Harvard study, over 75 per cent (39 of 51) e-cigarette brands contained diacetyl. The study also found two similarly harmful chemicals, pentanedione and acetoin, present in 23 and 46 of the 51 flavors it tested. Roughly 92 per cent of the e-cigarettes had one of the three chemicals present. Diacetyl is a chemical used as an artificial food flavouring and is often used in candy, popcorn and baked goods. Diacetyl is safe to eat; however, if inhaled, diacetyl may cause permanent lung damage and scarring. Diacetyl inhalation may cause bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn lung), other respiratory diseases, breathing difficulties, difficulty exercising, fatigue, nose/mouth/eye irritation, wheezing and even death.
It’s not just chemicals in e-cigarette products that can cause health issues. Vitamin E acetate is strongly linked to the EVALI outbreak and has been found in patient lung fluid samples tested by the CDC.
Vitamin E acetate is found in many foods and is available as a dietary supplement and in many cosmetic products like skin creams. When ingested as a vitamin or applied to the skin, Vitamin E acetate usually does not cause harm. However, research shows that when vitamin E acetate is inhaled, it may interfere with normal lung functioning.
- “There isn’t any nicotine in it.”
Nicotine is found in many vaping products. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that can lead to dependence. Children and youth are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of nicotine.
Nicotine can affect memory and concentration, is known to alter teen brain development and in adolescence, nicotine exposure may cause reduced impulse control and cognitive and behavioural problems.
Vaping liquid containing nicotine is poisonous. Even in small amounts, it can be very harmful if swallowed or absorbed through the skin, especially to young children.
Not all vaping products contain nicotine. However, even if a vaping product does not contain nicotine, there is still a chance of being exposed to other harmful chemicals.
- “It’s helping me quit smoking.”
Vaping is intended to help smokers quit tobacco. Vaping is not for youth and non-smokers. For every adult who is helped to quit smoking through vaping, 80 youths will start vaping.
Alberta Blue Cross® is proud to be a sponsor of Alberta Lung’s Breathe Smart! program since 2019. Breathe Smart! is a program where Alberta Lung partners with respirologists, registered respiratory therapists and nurses to facilitate presentations at schools across the province to help educate youth about respiratory health. More information can be found on their website at ablung.ca/what-we-do/breathe-smart-education-program
There are still many more myths to dispel about vaping. For more resources on how to quit smoking and vaping please visit: