With fun flavors and bright colours, vaping has long been presented as a safer alternative to smoking. But just how safe is safer? As more research is collected on this relatively new method of smoking, the dangers of vaping are slowly beginning to become clear.
Disclaimer: While The Dawn does not treat nicotine addiction, we are featuring this article for informational purposes given the potential negative health impacts of vaping and the growing number of vapers worldwide.
Trendy, ubiquitous – and safe? Vaping, the use of e-cigarettes, has exploded in popularity over the last few years, particularly among Gen-Zers and millennials, with a whopping 900% increase in use amongst young people in the US, and approximately 8.6% of youth and 7% of adults in the UK reporting regular vaping. But with this rise in use comes some concerning reports about significant negative health impacts, and even vaping-related deaths. Knowing the facts about vaping is critical in understanding what’s really happening to your body when you pick up a vape pen.
Why People are Choosing Vaping
Vaping is the newest way to catch a nicotine buzz, with many believing that it’s far less risky – and far more trendy – than taking a drag off of a cigarette. Here are a few reasons why the younger generations are turning away from cigarettes and picking up vape pens instead.
1. Vaping seems safer than smoking cigarettes
While longstanding campaigns highlighting the risks of traditional smoking have resulted in a decline in cigarette use especially among teens, this decline has been accompanied by a rapid increase in vaping. The branding of vape pens as a safer alternative to cigarettes has contributed to a widespread public misconception that vaping is harmless. In Australia, for example, where vape use has soared among youth over the last decade, surveys showed that users consider e-cigarettes to be healthier and less addictive than cigarettes, with less harmful chemicals and fewer negative second-hand side effects.
2. Vaping is perceived as fun and fashionable
The aesthetic appeal of vaping is attractive for new users, with vape pens coming in a variety of colours and customisable designs that users can mix and match. Taste is also a draw, with vape cartridges boasting a wide range of sweet flavours targeted towards younger users like bubble gum, lemonade, and blue razz ice. In one survey in the UK, 37.2% of youth who were vaping reported doing so because they liked the flavours. Another report found that amongst a section of users in the US, a major reason for vaping was the enjoyment of “doing tricks” while blowing vapour, with “cloud competitions” set up to see who could do the best tricks and blow the biggest and densest clouds.
3. Vaping is popular on social media and amongst celebrities
Online, vaping is ubiquitous – whether in paid advertisements, paparazzi photos of vaping celebrities, or in social media posts. Platforms like TikTok largely portray vaping in a positive light, with trending videos promoting a “vape community” full of humorous content, vapour tricks, and a wide variety of vape pen options. High-profile singers like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, as well as actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Pattinson and many more have been photographed vaping publicly, and product placements of vape pens in widely-viewed music videos, along with the endorsement of vape products by prominent social media influencers, all contribute to a heightened interest in vaping.
4. Vaping is seen as a quick way to quell anxiety
Nicotine has long been used as a way to subdue stress and tension, albeit with significant, long-term side effects. Vaping delivers the effects of nicotine to the brain in just 10 seconds, triggering a rush of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine that is effective in relieving anxiety, but is also a key factor in addiction.
Vaping and Women: Why is it So Popular?
One of the demographics driving the rise in vaping is young women, with a study showing the number of British women aged 16-24 vaping increased 3.5 times over the last two years, and that they are now more likely to use vapes than men. Part of this may be due to marketing campaigns specifically targeting women, with e-cigarette companies giving out free product samples at New York Fashion Week, running ads portraying women exercising alongside slogans like “breathe freely,” and even donating a portion of proceeds towards breast cancer in an effort to attract more women to vaping.
The Dark Side of Vaping: Knowing the Risks
Vape pens are routinely compared to cigarettes as a safer alternative, mostly because the vapour in e-cigarettes doesn’t contain the same number of contaminants as a traditional cigarette. However, the perception by many that the vapour is mostly water or air plus a bit of nicotine is wrong.
In fact, vapers inhale a variety of potentially toxic substances including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals, and diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease.
Dr. Michael Chaiton, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health explained to CTV News, “Compared to not doing anything, vaping is unquestionably harmful. Compared to smoking, vaping is unquestionably less harmful…But for people who aren’t smoking, and who may never have smoked, that vaping is leading to health risks and the chance of dependence.”
This is because vaping delivers the same addictive chemical as regular cigarettes – nicotine – and in some cases, exposes users to even higher amounts of it. Nicotine has an extremely high addictive potential, which is why vapers can find themselves in the same predicament as many smokers – wanting to quit, but finding it extremely difficult to do so. This is largely due to significant withdrawal symptoms which can include intense cravings. “Acute nicotine withdrawal symptoms can be psychological and physical…[but will] gradually decrease during the following three to four weeks,” explained Nikola Djordjevic, MD, project manager of Med Alert Help to The Healthy.
Vaping Withdrawal Symptoms
- Difficulty thinking clearly or focusing
- Increased appetite
- Constipation, stomachaches
- Difficulty sleeping
- Low mood or sadness
- Intense cravings
Vaping withdrawal symptoms are common for those trying to stop, and the strong cravings that accompany the uncomfortable physical effects may compel people to continue vaping, potentially resulting in serious long term health impacts.
Potential Negative Health Impacts of Vaping
- Acute lung injury
- Increased risk of asthma
- Stunted brain development for youth and young adults
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- “Popcorn lung,” a type of inflammatory lung condition that can lead to scarring
- Increased risk of cancer
How to Quit Vaping
Whether you are concerned about the long-term side effects, have already noticed a physical dependency on vapes, or have just decided it’s time to move on from vaping, it is important to be prepared for symptoms of withdrawal and to have a clear plan in place for quitting. People who successfully quit vaping often use a variety of tactics to help beat a vaping addiction, which include things like:
- Staying hydrated and properly nourished – a healthy diet complemented by proper hydration is essential in creating a foundation where recovery from addiction can thrive. Finger foods like raw carrots or almonds can also help engage your hands, which is often helpful in quitting vaping.
- Making sleep a priority – fatigue and grogginess are common symptoms of withdrawal, and getting more rest can help your body heal and stabilise your moods
- Creating a plan for managing cravings – many people experience cravings after quitting vaping, but having a plan in place for how to manage those can help you successfully navigate these feelings. Whether you reach for a stick of gum, grab a fidget, take a quick walk, or call a friend to talk through it, being prepared is key.
- Reaching out for professional support – quitting vaping is challenging, and having people who specialise in overcoming addiction to help guide you through the process is an incredibly valuable resource. A therapist, support group, or your personal care physician can all provide support as you recover from vaping addiction.
Vaping: What’s Next?
As time and research continue to provide greater insights into the true costs of vaping, some are pointing to lessons learned over cigarette use to guide future decisions on vaping and public health. Broad informational campaigns about the dangers of smoking have made a significant impact on the number of youth using cigarettes, and similar campaigns may help more young vapers think twice before picking up a vape pen. Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff wrote, “The longer governments drag their feet, the more kids will take up vaping, sucking chemicals into developing lungs with potential long term consequences we have yet to understand – and one with which we’re already very familiar: that of being suckered into an expensive lifelong nicotine dependency that may keep them hooked long after they want to be. And all the watermelon flavouring in the world can’t sweeten that deal.”
Overcoming Addiction at The Dawn in Thailand
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab is a unique inpatient rehabilitation facility created to foster an environment of healing and growth for those looking to recover from substance use or mental health disorders. While we do not treat nicotine addiction, at The Dawn, we offer a Signature Addiction Programme for individuals struggling with other types of substance use disorders, behavioural addictions and co-occurring disorders.
Our primary goal at The Dawn is for clients to achieve and maintain long-term recovery by understanding the root causes of their disorder, and equipping each individual with a personalised set of coping tools to use when dealing with life’s challenges. We work closely with each client to develop a customised treatment plan based on their specific needs and goals.
Call The Dawn today to learn more about how we can help you live a healthier life.