The use of e-cigarettes (vaping) has increased in popularity over the last few years, and as more research is undertaken, the more we are learning about the potentially hazardous impacts this growing trend is having on our health – particularly our younger generations.
We asked our Respiratory Scientist, Charlene, to tell us more about vaping and what recent studies are telling us about the social and medical consequences of this trend.
What is vaping and why should people think twice about it?
Vaping involves inhaling vapour created by superheating e-liquids, or e-juices, in a device called a vape pen, personal vaporiser or e-cigarette. Vaping delivers numerous unregulated toxic substances, heavy metals and organic compounds, into the lungs where they are absorbed into the blood. Although many flavourings are “food grade” this does not mean they are safe to breathe in. Flavourings can be altered when superheated and change into cancer-causing compounds such as formaldehyde and other aldehydes1.
Despite these devices and liquids being marketed as healthier and safer alternatives to smoking, there is mounting evidence demonstrating the dangers of vaping. People that vape commonly report negative side effects such as dry cough, mouth and throat irritation, headache and nausea2. One study that involved 40,000 adolescents demonstrated that vaping more than doubled their risk of an asthma diagnosis and more than tripled the frequency of missed days at school related to asthma3. Shockingly, another study has shown the harmful effects of vaping on the lungs can be seen after just 5 minutes of using an e-cigarette4!
Regulations – there are none!
The ingredients of e-cigarettes are currently unregulated. A research study completed right here in Western Australia identified the chemical composition of 65 flavoured e-liquids that are available for sale in Australia. They found that every single e-liquid that they tested had a composition that was different to what the ingredients label stated, often containing unstudied chemicals with unknown effects on the lungs. In addition, several nicotine-free varieties actually contained nicotine, despite the sale of nicotine-containing e-liquids being illegal without a prescription5.
Sadly, vaping is being marketed heavily towards our youth, with advertising campaigns that popularise and glamourise this habit. Young people are enticed with sweet-flavoured e-juices and brightly coloured packaging. This type of poorly regulated, targeted marketing manipulates young people into thinking that these products are not only safe but provide a desirable social image1.
The long-term health consequences of vaping are still unknown, but research conducted so far has undisputedly indicated vaping is dangerous to lung health and delivers an unregulated mixture of toxic compounds to the lungs. If you need support to quit smoking or vaping, reach out to your GP or Quitline for support. If you are a young person, it can be hard to withstand peer pressure, but it is important to make informed decisions, know the health risks, be critical of vaping advertisements, and most importantly, put your health first.
For more statistics on vaping in Australia, visit the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website.
Other useful information can be found on the Lung Foundation website.
- Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand and Lung Foundation Australia (n.d.). Inquiry into the use and marketing of electronic cigarettes and personal vaporisers in Australia: Submission 332.
- Gualano, M.R., Passi, S., Bert, F., La Torre, G., Scaioli G., & Siliquini R. (2014). Electronic cigarettes: assessing the efficacy and the adverse effects through a systematic review of published studies. Journal of Public Health, 37(3), 488-497. https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdu055
- Cho, J.H. & S.Y. Paik. (2016). Association between electronic cigarette use and asthma among high school students in South Korea. PloS one, 11(3), e0151022. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0151022
- Vardavas, C.I., Anagnostopoulos, N., Kougias, M., Evangelopoulou, V., Connolly, G.N., & Behrakis, P.K. (2012). Short-term pulmonary effects of using an electronic cigarette: impact on respiratory flow resistance, impedance, and exhaled nitric oxide. Chest Journal, 141(6), 1400-1406. https://doi.org/10.1378/chest.11-2443
- Larcombe A., Allard, S., Pringle, P., Mead-Hunter, R., Anderson, N., & Mullins, B. (2021). Chemical analysis of fresh and aged Australian e-cigarette liquids. The Medical Journal of Australia,1-6. https://doi.org/10.5694/mja2.51280