Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol produced by a vaping device, such as an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette).

Pocket vapes, pen vaporisers and box mod vaporisers are other vaping devices available on the market. Vaping doesn’t require burning like cigarette smoking.

The device, usually battery-operated, heats a liquid into a vapour, which then turns into aerosol and is breathed in by the individual through a mouthpiece.

This vapour contains about a dozen ingredients and flavouring agents, including nicotine.

How it began

A vaping device was first patented by Herbert A. Gilbert in 1963.

His model of replacing paper and burning smoke with heated moist and flavourful vapour was rejected by cigarette companies then as the smoking community was not aware of the health risks of cigarettes as they are now.

E-cigarettes hit the shelves successfully only in 2003 in Beijing, China.

Pharmacist and researcher Hon Lik, also a hopeless smoker, created the first commercial e-cigarette after his father died of lung cancer.

He later revealed in an interview that he had dreamt of drowning in a sea. Suddenly, the water vaporised and he was able to breathe easily.

This dream sparked an idea that laid the foundation to the making of e-cigarettes.

He introduced e-cigarettes in the United States and Europe in 2006. Since then, e-cigarettes have journeyed into many countries under various regulations.

In 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that it does not consider e-cigarettes safe and demanded that marketers immediately remove any such suggestions from their product.

In 2009, then-US President Barack Obama gave the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco.

In 2011, the agency announced that it will regulate e-cigarettes just like traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Its regulations on e-cigarettes was released officially in 2016, and included age and marketing limitations for the product.

Last year, the US FDA called the increasing trend of e-cigarette usage among teenagers an epidemic and introduced a youth tobacco prevention plan to stop it.

Aside from restricting availability and raising awareness, the agency is also evaluating a policy to restrict flavoured vaping liquids, which are the main attraction of e-cigarettes for young people.

The effects of vaping

• Lung

The American Lung Association (ALA) says that e-cigarettes contain many toxic substances such as aldehydes, acrolein (a herbicide) and benzene (found in car exhaust), which can cause irreversible lung damage and result in many lung diseases, including asthma and lung cancer.

Some of the flavouring agents used in vaping liquids are also known to cause serious lung disease.

Heart

Vaping liquids contain many heart-toxic substances. They not only result in heart disease, but also accelerate disease progression in those who already have heart disease.

Evidence suggests that e-cigarettes have a substantial negative effect on blood vessels, hence increasing the risk of a heart attack.

Researchers from the University of Kansas in the US say that: “When you smoke e-cigarettes, you are much more likely to have an MI (myocardial infarction or heart attack), coronary artery disease or stroke, and are more prone to suffer from depression.”

Vaping also reduces the release of nitric oxide by blood vessels, which may result in heart disease.

Brain

Nicotine has been shown to be toxic to the developing brain of young people.

Scientists have found that many vaping devices produce vapour that contains lead concentrations above the safety limits established by the US government, which can cause nerve and brain damage.

Lead is a known neurotoxicant, which means that it has direct toxic effects on the brain and nervous system.

With their brains still developing, teenagers and young adults are highly susceptible to these negative effects.

Researchers have found that about 40% of vaping liquids contain manganese above the recommended safe levels.

People who work with manganese are likely to develop manganism, which is a Parkinson’s-like disease that deteriorates the brain.

Pregnancy

Nicotine has been shown to have negative effects on reproductive health.

It can harm the developing foetus when their mother is exposed to it, and lead to babies born with low birth weight.

Children

Those who experience secondhand vaping are also likely to be inhaling these toxic metals and putting their health at risk.

Other than damage to their developing brain, children who have been exposed to nicotine also have more respiratory problems.

Cancer

In addition to high levels of nicotine, e-cigarette liquids also contain propylene glycol and glycerine, which can irritate the eyes and airways.

When heated and vaporised, these ingredients degrade into formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, which are carcinogenic.

Many vaping devices produce vapour containing chromium, a cancer-causing agent, at concentrations above limits established by the US government.

Gateway to cigarettes

E-cigarettes produce vapour rather than tobacco smoke, which means that they deliver less nicotine than traditional cigarettes. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re safer.

The most intimidating thing that has been discovered about e-cigarettes is that they keep people addicted to nicotine.

Research shows that around 70% to 90% of e-cigarette users are still smoking traditional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes may prove less harmful than traditional cigarettes, but are still not completely safe.

Because of the misconception that vaping is harmless, young adults who would never have been introduced to nicotine in their lifetime, are now getting addicted to it.

Dr Barani Karikalan is a senior lecturer in pathology at the Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine. This article is courtesy of Perdana University. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.