Why vaping is just as dangerous as tobacco smoking...and probably much worse
Over the last two hundred or so years, the human race has slowly learned that generally speaking, the further anything is removed from nature, the more potentially deadly it becomes. Time will show us that electronic cigarettes are not just as dangerous as conventional cigarettes, they are considerably more dangerous and much more addictive.
Planet of The Vapes
The electronic cigarette, e-cigarette, or vape, is an artificial contrivance that is rapidly gaining in popularity all over the world. This is partly because of the smoking ban in many countries, and partly because of misleading claims by tobacco companies that they are a safe, or safer alternative to smoking conventional cigarettes.
Almost everything thing you need to know about the dangers of e-cigarettes is contained in the following line:
Nicotine is an insecticide.
Yes, that's right - nicotine is an insecticide.
The rest of this article is simply explaining why breathing in a pure, hot insecticide gas can kill you. It can do this at any age, and in any amount - slowly or suddenly. If you have taken up smoking e-cigarettes, or "vaping" as it has become known, stop now. If someone you know or love has taken to smoking e-cigarettes, thinking they are moving to to a healthy alternative to cigarettes, send them a link to this article - it might save their life.
The widespread believe that e-cigarettes are safer is based on the fact that they contain only the drug nicotine, and almost none of the other well known poisons found in tobacco smoke. But do they really take out all of the risks out of smoking? Is this safety claim simply too good to be true? If you are a smoker reading this article, I'll bet that you are already having doubts about whether sticking a battery powered nicotine vapour dispenser in your mouth is a very good idea. After helping thousands of smokers quit since 1996, I can categorically say that e-cigarettes are not just dangerous, they are considerably MORE dangerous than smoking ordinary cigarettes. A study recently carried out showed that when mice were given nicotine injections for two years - 78% of them developed cancer (Grando 2012). If you switch from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes you are not "giving up smoking" - as some claim - you are jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
To be fair, tobacco companies, may not be misleading the public deliberately. After all, well meaning government bodies have been encouraging smokers to believe that nicotine patches and gum are a safe alternative to smoking for years. That's actually a sweeping assumption because science does not yet fully understand why smoking causes cancer and so many other deadly diseases in the first place. Surprisingly, we are still guessing as to which specific ingredients in tobacco cause the most damage and why.
Approximately 90,000 smokers die every year in the United Kingdom (enough to fill Wembley Stadium) as a result of smoking - but no one knows for sure what makes cigarettes so dangerous. The precise mechanisms may not fully understood, but we do know the odd part of the jigsaw here and there, for example we know that tobacco "tar" is carcinogenic (cancer forming) and that nicotine cause arteries to constrict all round the body increasing the likelihood of heart attack, strokes and impotence.
Sticky tar, non sticky tar poisonous chemicals and nicotine
You often hear about the dangers of tobacco tar. Quite rightly, because it is one of the world's most aggressive carcinogens (i.e. cancer forming substances) but funnily enough, normal cigarettes do not actually contain any tar. The tar generally refers to the vapour that begins to form in the body the moment smoke enters the mouth. Tobacco tar is made up of 4000 or so chemicals, many of them deadly poisons and carcinogens, that arrive in the body from these gases in tobacco smoke. Nicotine is one of those poisons. It is not only poisonous, it is used in some parts of the world as a powerful insecticide.
In fact "tobacco tar" it is a very misleading term, disliked by researchers, because the residual, sticky part of the tar in the lungs is only part of the problem. Non sticky tar is also known to cause mouth, tongue, throat and oesophageal cancer even though it does not accumulate in these parts of the body. The assumption is often made that tar is somehow completely separate to nicotine, but whether it "sticks" to the mouth, throat, oesophagus and lungs or not - it is one of the most abundant of the poisons delivered by cigarettes.
There is also the assumption that the sticky, residual tobacco tar in the lungs causes the biggest threat to health. This is another widespread assumption, and the notion that e-cigarettes are safe, or safer than conventional smoking is largely based on both of these false assumptions. Firstly, you should consider the fact that only about one fifth of smoking related deaths are caused by lung cancer - that's right - only one fifth. Of the 105,000 odd smoking related deaths each year in the UK only about 18,000 of them die from lung cancer. The sticky tar is a residue of chemicals that settle in the lungs but nicotine not only infiltrates the lungs, it travels beyond and cause damage to the rest of your body.
Low tar cigarettes do not result in lower rates of lung cancer
One of the biggest and longest studies ever carried out amongst smokers, looking at over half a million smokers, discovered that there was no difference in lung cancer rates amongst medium tar, low tar or even very low tar smokers (J. Harris, British Medical Journal - BMJ 2004;328:72). That's not to say that tobacco tar does not cause lung cancer - it does.
Nicotine is a very poisonous substance. I sometimes ask my patients if they know why smoking is related to heart disease (almost as common amongst smokers as lung cancer) or why smoking can cause birth defects in children if the mother smokes during pregnancy. Most people struggle to reply to that question. Well, that's not surprising because people tend to believe that the tar residue in the lungs causes all the damage. I can tell you quite categorically that the sticky tobacco tar does not go beyond the lungs - it does not reach the heart, womb, brain, breasts or any other part of the body beyond the lungs....but nicotine does.
Nicotine is neuro-toxic to insects
Nicotine is neuro-toxic to insects and if they come into contact with it they die very quickly. The Native American Indians (who gave us tobacco in the first place) knew all about this - they used nicotine as an insecticide, just as people in many third world countries do to this day. Nicotine is now banned as in insecticide in many parts of the world. Ever wondered why? Well, for a start there's enough nicotine in 2-3 cigarettes to kill a human being if it were to be injected straight into a vein, making it far more deadly than almost any other recreational drug. You can't "mainline" nicotine - it causes death.
Imidacloprid (the world's most widely used insecticide) is actually a synthetic form of nicotine. Imagine if you were to be invited to work on a farm spraying insecticide 20 times a day without wearing a mask. You'd be crazy to do that, especially if, for example, you were a pregnant woman, because as you inhaled the insecticide, it would travel into your bloodstream and be delivered to every part of your body within seconds. Of course you are not an insect, so you do not simply drop down dead after a cigarette. But each inhalation of nicotine from any kind of cigarette kills many precious cells in your mouth, throat and lungs. Luckily the saliva "washes" the mouth clean of much of the nicotine after each cigarettes - but unfortunately it takes the insecticide down into the food pipe - the esophagus. Esophageal cancer is many times more likely to occur in smokers than non smokers - now why would that be do you imagine? Is it because the tar settles in the food pipe? Of course not. The truth is we don't yet know precisely why esophageal cancer is so common amongst smokers, we can only guess, but do you really feel comfortable about putting an insecticide like nicotine into your esophagus every day? Do you really feel safe putting this insecticide into your lungs, every day? Smokers phlegm is not a secretion from your lungs - it is dead lungs cells, killed by the poison, accumulating in the lungs and mixing with bacteria. No wonder e-cigarette users often complain of continuing to suffer from "smokers" phlegm. Sometimes new, and unpleasant amounts of different coloured phlegm start to appear.
The theory of mutated cells
In my way of looking at it, it's not so much the cells that are destroyed by insecticides that you have to worry about. It's the occasional cell that is damaged by the poison. Damaged or mutated cells sometimes live on, and multiply, just like a normal healthy cells, but in an uncontrolled way. As I have said several times, as yet know one knows precisely why smoking causes so much cancer, but you don't have to be a genius to spot the danger of an insecticide like nicotine.
As with tobacco tar (of which nicotine is a component anyway) there is considerable evidence of a link between nicotine and cancer. As mentioned above, a study recently carried out showed that when mice were given nicotine injections for two years - 78% of them developed cancer (Grando 2012).
If you have bought electronic cigarettes I'd advise you to throw them away and never go near one again. If you must continue to smoke, choose ordinary, tobacco cigarettes until you quit. Pipe and cigar smokers are known to be less likely to develop lung cancer than cigarette smokers. Likewise, cigarette smokers in France are thought to be less prone to lung cancer owing to the fact they smoke cigarette brands with less refined tobacco, such as Gauloise and Gitanes. Since they have recently switched to more refined, American type cigarettes, lung cancer rates in France have increased. This is not surprising, because as a general rule, the further anything is removed from nature, from it's natural unrefined form, the more dangerous it becomes to human beings. This is true of foodstuffs, chemicals, drugs, plastics, fume emissions - just about anything. The electronic cigarette takes this refining process to an new extreme.
With e-cigarettes you are often smoking - or should I say electronically inhaling - a vapour containing propylene glycol (PG) - a household product often used as an ingredient in shampoos, pet foods, bubble bath, after shave, deodorants and baby wipes. Propylene Glycol is a major ingredient in most electronic cigarette cartridges.
They often explode
Hardly a week goes by without a tabloid article reporting an e-cigarette explosion, for example, the incident in February 2012, when a Florida man was almost killed when one blew up in his face, blowing out several of his teeth and part of his tongue. Red hot pieces of the fake cigarette were reported to have flown across the room. Ironically, the man was trying to quit smoking. To be fair, that was probably a freak accident - but wondering about where, when or whether it will happen again is not exactly the most relaxing thought in the world.
On the internet there are forums where smokers claim they have "quit smoking" because they have switched to e-cigarettes. This is ridiculous, because if you are still unable to get through the day without inhaling the drug you are still a nicotine addict - regardless of how nicotine is delivered. In fact you may find you start consuming far more nicotine than before, without realising it, and become more addicted to the substance than ever, making it considerably harder to quit. It's so easy to start smoking the equivalent of 40 a day instead of the usual 20 for example. This is because there is no longer the simple, traditional way of monitoring (and therefore limiting) the amount of nicotine consumed by counting the number of cigarettes you have smoked. E- cigarettes users, or "vapers" as they now sometimes call themselves, talk of how they have managed to "quit", smoking and how relieved they are to be finally be free from the dangers of smoking. Hopefully after reading this article you will not suffer from the same rather sad delusion.
In case you still believe that switching to e-cigarettes means you have quit smoking...
"Smoker" is basically a commonly used term used to describe a nicotine user, but consider what smoking really means in a broader sense. If a heroine user smokes heroine (often known as "chasing the dragon's tail") then switches to injecting the drug - they are still very much a heroine user. They have not quit, they have not given up. A heroine user may cease smoking the drug but if addicted may well become more so once injecting. With vaping, it is much easier to injest more nicotine than through smoking conventional cigarettes.
Incidentally it is not possible to mainline or inject nicotine - it would be fatal because of the toxicity. There is enough nicotine in a typical cigarette to cause death.
E-cigarettes are already banned in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, New Zealand and several Middle Eastern countries, plus many countries have partial bans. I predict that in about 10 years it will be shown, conclusively that e-cigarettes are considerably more deadly than tobacco cigarettes. I only hope this doesn't culminate in a kind of dreadful, science fiction type scenario a little further on into the 21st century. Imagine a nightmarish situation where people who have switched to e-cigarettes, or who have decided to return to "smoking" (believing there is now a safe alternative to tobacco) finally realise they now face far greater and more terrifying risks than ever before, coupled with having acquired a much deeper addiction to nicotine.
Don't believe the clever advertising hype that makes out that electronic cigarettes are a smart, modern, safe, sexy, healthier, or "guilt free" alternative to smoking. Do yourself a favour and keep well away from them. If you already have an e-cigarette - throw it in the bin right now!