The truth about vaping: Why it’s not a safe alternative to smoking

As health experts warn against the safety of vaping, more Aussies are taking up e-cigarettes. So what exactly are vapes, what makes them appealing, and are they really that bad?

A global survey found 1 in 12 teens reported vaping in the past month, while an Australian Alcohol and Drug foundation survey has reported increased use of e-cigarettes among young people.

But some experts say the real number of people vaping is even greater as they call for better education around the risks.

Vape products are marketed to be enticing to young people – available in a range of coloured, scented vapors, and slickly designed devices.

“We hear from lots of parents and teachers that kids are curious and are attracted to the flavours they come in,” Quit director Dr Sarah White says.

“There are a lot of social media influencers who are using e-cigarettes, and we’re seeing it pop up in video games and music videos, so it’s entered popular culture.

“But the problem is people think it’s not smoking, so it’s okay.”

What is vaping?

Vaping is inhaling fumes from a substance heated up using a battery-operated vape pen, also known as an e-cigarette.

It is illegal to sell or supply tobacco products, including e-cigarette products, to people under the age of 18 in Australia, and you need a prescription to buy and use liquid nicotine for vaping.

What’s in an e-cigarette?

Many vapes sold in Australia do not include an ingredient list, making it impossible for people to know what they are inhaling.

Vaping liquid, often referred to as e-liquid or e-juice, typically contain substances like propylene glycol and glycerol, mixed with flavours, and some may include nicotine.

Other substances which have been found in e-cigarettes include known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, acetaldehydem and acrolein.

Are vapes harmful?

Researchers are still learning about the long-term health impacts of smoking e-cigarettes, but they do not consider them safe.

An Australian government report into vaping found nicotine e-cigarettes increase the risk of adverse health outcomes including addiction, poisoning, seizures, trauma and lung injury.

The health risks associated with vaping include short and long term impact on the heart and lungs, and it’s considered a ‘gateway’ to greater tobacco use.

There is also concern e-cigarettes normalise the act of smoking among younger generations, according to Alcohol and Drug Foundation chief executive Dr Erin Lalor.

“Vaping is associated with a number of negative health risks, particularly among young people and non-smokers,” Dr Lalor says.

“Young people who vape nicotine are exposed to a toxic chemical that can harm their brain development and can lead to dependence.

“There is also some evidence that vaping nicotine is associated with later tobacco use among teenagers.”

Another medical concern being investigated is bronchiolitis obliterans, known as popcorn lung, where lung tissue becomes inflamed, making it hard to breathe.

Is vaping worse than smoking cigarettes?

While the long term effects of vaping are not fully understood, health professionals warn against it being promoted as a safe alternative to cigarettes.

“It took us 30 years to find out all the risks of smoking,” Dr White points out.

“We’re not anywhere near 30 years yet for vaping.

“So, we know they cause harm, we know they have poisoned people, and there has been one death in Australia already, at least.”

While vaping is often promoted as a way to stop smoking cigarettes, it is important to know vapes containing nicotine can be as addictive as traditional cigarettes – possibly even more.

There is also evidence people who taking up vaping to boot their tobacco habit end up continuing to use both.

Common questions about vaping

As the popularity of vaping rises, many questions swirl about its potential impacts.

Here are a few that pop up regularly.

Does vaping cause cancer?

While there is no current evidence that vaping causes cancer, e-cigarettes are not considered a safe product.

Known carcinogens have been found in vape products, however it is not yet known if that increases the risk of cancer.

Does vaping make you lose weight?

There is no evidence that vaping can assist weight loss.

Does vaping cause acne?

While there isn’t a lot of research about vaping causing acne specifically, current evidence reveals it has harmful impact on the body’s organ systems, including the skin.

Does vaping cause erectile dysfunction?

Sorry fellas, this one has some truth to it, according to a recent study, which found links between vaping and erectile dysfunction.

How to quit vaping

The tips for quitting vaping are very similar to quitting smoking.

Start by making the decision you want to stop and identifying times, places and feelings that make you want to vape so you can prepare to handle these situations.

Next, rid your house of temptation.

Empty all bags, pockets and hiding places of vapes, so you don’t have easy access.

Working out is also proven to help with nicotine withdrawal and is also a good distraction tool when you have a craving.

Finally, don’t forget to reach out or help with the Quitline on 1378848.