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Vaping Not Much Safer Than Smoking

Dr. Meenu Walia, Senior Director, Oncology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, speaks to Jyotsna Sharma about the health risks of Vaping, e-cigarettes, and tobacco use

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What are the harmful effects of smoking and tobacco use? 
Smoking is a major reason for cancer, and accounts for 22 per cent of the cancer deaths. No matter how you smoke it, tobacco is dangerous to your health. There are no safe substances in any tobacco products, from acetone and tar to nicotine and carbon monoxide - it is a deadly combination.  

The substances you inhale effect your lungs and your entire body. It can lead to chronic complications, and have long-term effects on your body systems. Within 10 seconds of your first puff, the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke reach your brain, heart, and other organs.  

Tobacco use is the one risk factor shared by 4 of the main categories of non-communicable disease. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also increases the risk of tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems with the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis. 

As per reports by the World Health Organization (WHO), India is home to 12 per cent of the world’s smokers. More than 1 million people die every year due to tobacco-related illnesses.  

What kinds of cancer can people get from smoking?  
Every time a person takes a puff of a cigarette, 7000 chemicals, including 69 known carcinogens enter the lungs and spread to other parts of the body. 

It is known to cause cancer of the mouth and throat, oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voice box (larynx), trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukaemia. 

Nowadays, we see a prevalence of smoking among women, thus putting them at higher risk of cervical cancer, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG). An old study published in the Journal of the National Cancer found that premenopausal women who smoke are six times more likely to develop rectal cancer than those who do not. Studies have also found that smoking for more than ten years increased the risk of developing breast cancer by 21 per cent.  

Vaping and e-cigarettes are coming up as alternatives, are they any better?  
One of the hottest topics in public health today is the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), commonly referred to as “vaping.” More than a decade ago, vaping exploded in popularity as a “healthier” alternative to regular tobacco products, but current research is shining a grim light through this smoky haze.  

While many e-cigarette companies market their product as a tool to help smokers quit, this has not yet been approved by agencies.   

What are the harmful effects of vaping and e-cigarettes?  
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine that can damage heart cells, potentially causing heart disease. Exposure to nicotine can negatively impact brain development in young adults and adolescents, including effects on working memory and attention. It can also cause sudden infant death syndrome. 

Although e-cigarettes don’t emit smoke like lit tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes contain thousands of the same toxic chemicals.  

Most e-cigarettes contain freebase nicotine or nicotine salts. Some contain vitamin E acetate, and many produce a vapor containing chemicals including diacetyl, formaldehyde, acrolein, benzene, other toxicants, carcinogens, and heavy metals proven to be carcinogenic and neurotoxic. 

Findings suggest the toxicity levels are lower than in cigarette smoke, the levels of formaldehyde and metals were comparable to or higher than in cigarettes. 

A large observational study conducted by the American College of Cardiology found that compared to non-smokers, e-cigarette users were 34 percent more likely to have a heart attack, 25 percent more likely to develop coronary artery disease, and 55 percent more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety. 

When it comes to your lungs, e-cigarette smoking, similar to tobacco smoking, increases the risk of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

Are they as addictive as regular cigarettes and tobacco products? 
As per research, both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes contain nicotine - an addictive substance quite like heroin and cocaine. What’s worse, many e-cigarette users get even more nicotine than they would from a combustible tobacco product. Users buy extra-strength cartridges with a higher concentration of nicotine or increase the e-cigarette’s voltage to get a greater hit of the substance. 

The concern in the current times is the rapidly growing number of our youth getting hooked on e-cigarettes. There is a spike in the number of smokers among teenagers and young adults, many of whom were never-smokers. One possible reason behind this could be the false belief that vaping is less harmful than tobacco smoking.