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Is Vaping Safer Than Smoking?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

After e-cigarettes first emerged in 2004, they quickly became a popular, "healthier" alternative for those who wanted the feeling of smoking tobacco. This could be one of the reasons for the steady, continued decline of cigarette smoking in the United States. While nearly 42 percent of the population were smokers during the Mad Men era of the mid-60s, the figure dropped to around 17 percent in recent years.

While studies acknowledge vaping has far less of an impact on health compared to smoking, experts also cautioned long-term studies still can't make solid conclusions as the alternative has been in use for only a little more than a decade. Growing evidence from research, however, suggested we are just beginning to see the potential consequences.

In 2015, a letter from the New England Journal of Medicine expressed concern over formaldehyde, a toxic compound found in the vapors produced by e-cigarettes. While researchers are still studying its link to cancer, formaldehyde is known to cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

Irfan Rahman, professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester, led the first study to examine the impact of e-cigarettes on oral health.

"We showed that when the vapors from an e-cigarette are burned, it causes cells to release inflammatory proteins, which in turn aggravate stress within cells, resulting in damage that could lead to various oral diseases," he said.

This year, he was one of the authors of a study that examined artificial flavors for inducing tissue damage and having a toxic effect on white blood cells, with the worst impact coming from cinnamon, vanilla, and buttery flavored e-juices. There are around 250 harmful chemicals found in traditional cigarettes while the number is significantly reduced in vaping. But the presence of nicotine still poses a threat (particularly risk of heart disease) in its concentrated, e-liquid form.

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