Vaping and Lung Disease – Worrying FactsPJ Prins
While many people see electronic cigarettes as the healthier alternative to smoking regular cigarettes, it’s not all as simple as that…
Fair enough, while e-cigarettes do send nicotine to your lungs, it does so without the smoke and tar associated with burning tobacco. But that’s not where it ends.
While the chemistry behind vaping is different from that of burning tobacco, the combination of chemicals – which include heavy metals, formaldehyde, and other nasty chemicals – can build up in your lungs over time.
Fact: The vapour of e-cigarettes contain several chemicals linked to cancer.
The worst culprit, however, is flavoured e-cigarettes. The chemical components used to create the flavours can have devastating side effects over time – which you really need to know about.
How much of these do you breathe in during vaping? That differs from one person to the next, depending on how deeply you inhale when vaping. Plus – as with everything else in life – the numbers add up. How much time do you spend vaping every day?
It also depends on the type of vaping device you use. In some e-cigarettes, the concentration of these chemicals in the vapour is lower than in regular cigarettes. Good news, right?
Not quite. In high-voltage electronic cigarettes, these chemicals actually appear in higher concentrations than the “standard” ones.
The danger of flavoured vaping:
Scientific studies have established that the use of flavours like cinnamon can actually cause inflammation in the cells of your lungs. More research on that is needed to determine the extent of long term vaping, but so far it doesn’t look good.
This is where it gets really scary:
One specific chemical used to flavour e-cigarettes is called diacetyl. For those note familiar with organic chemistry, the name may not mean much, but…
it has been linked to a very serious disease (read: incurable) commonly known as “popcorn lung”. In medical circles it is referred to as “bronchiolitis obliterans”.
How did THAT name come about?
In the not-too-recent past, people who worked in a microwave popcorn factory developed serious lung problems – all of which was caused by regular inhalation of diacetyl. The factory used diacetyl to create flavouring for their popcorn.
At the time it was also used to flavour dairy products and caramel, but workers doing that were not exposed to it on the scale of the workers in the microwave popcorn factory.
However, vaping with flavours containing diacetyl is pretty similar (for your lungs) to what those factory workers experienced.
So, what’s the big deal with “popcorn lung”?
Diacetyl causes scarring of the miniscule air sacks inside your lungs – the ones responsible for the actual uptake of oxygen that you breathe – and leave your airways narrow. And the rest of your body doesn’t react well to it either.
Depending on the amount taken in over time, it can eventually cause:
- A dry cough which simply won’t go away, no matter what you try.
- It can leave you short of breath.
- It can cause wheezing.
- It can cause headaches and other aches.
- It can cause fever – because your immune system tries to react to it.
- It can cause irritation of the airways, eyes and skin.
Of course, as soon as the link between diacetyl and popcorn lung was established, many companies (not just popcorn companies) chose to remove the chemical from their production processes and products.
It is still very common in e-cigarette flavouring – including flavours like vanilla, coconut, candy-flavoured, fruit-flavoured, and even alcohol-flavoured vaping products.
Sadly, many of the flavours are popular among teens and youngsters who vape, leaving them exposed to many years of diacetyl scarring (of the lungs) if they don’t stop.
The REALLY scary part is this:
Popcorn lung cannot be cured.
Yes, you can try to manage the symptoms by using antibiotics or steroids to reduce the inflammation inside your lungs, and keep your immune system from overreacting.
But at the end of the day…
Once the damage is done, it is done. At present, there is no cure.
That leaves the question:
Is it worth it?