Science & Technology

E-cigarettes could be the next big public health epidemic

McGill students are no strangers to plumes of e-cigarette vapour, whether it is in class, at McLennan, or on the sidewalk. Created in 2004, vapes imitate the sensation of smoking and are often marketed as being completely safe. E-cigarettes have surged in popularity in the last few years, due in part to advertising campaigns of companies like Juul that target young people, offering products with fun flavours such as mango and mint.

According to Christopher Labos, a cardiologist and an associate with the McGill Office for Science and Society, regular cigarette-users inhale smoke, while e-cigarettes produce vapour. 

“The difference between regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes is that regular cigarettes are a combustion product,” Labos said in an interview with The McGill Tribune.  “With e-cigarettes, you have liquid nicotine that is usually in an oil solution, and you are producing vapour when it is heated.”

E-cigarettes were originally introduced to help people quit smoking: The first e-cigarette had water vapour but no nicotine and was intended to simply mimic the feeling of a cigarette in your hand. Now, the majority of e-cigarettes have nicotine content ranging from zero to 87 milligrams. For example, one Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes. 

“Nicotine […] itself does have health effects,” Labos said. “It stimulates the sympathetic nervous system of the body and increases […] heart rate and blood pressure.”

Recently, nicotine and marijuana vapes have garnered attention due to their popularity and potentially fatal consequences. As of Oct. 15, 33 people have died in the US and nearly 1,500 people suffered lung injuries associated with marijuana vaping. A Statistics Canada survey showed that e-cigarettes are more popular among younger people, with 23 per cent of high school students having tried them. Currently, scientists know little of the effects of long-term e-cigarette usage. While nicotine is known to be addictive, not enough time has passed to observe the full effects of regularly inhaling mass amounts of vapour. 

“If you took a bunch of healthy 20-year-olds, and they started smoking today, the likelihood is in five years you would not see any effect to their health yet,” Labos said.

While vaping’s long-term effects are yet to be established, a study found that vapour can irritate and disrupt the protective layers of the lungs in mice. Due to toxins in the vapour, e-cigarettes also pose potential threats to young people’s brain development. Still, companies often claim that they are safe in advertisements targeting young people.

Before the link between cardiovascular diseases and cigarettes was established by researchers, tobacco companies used to market cigarettes as safe and recommended by doctors. The consequences of this advertising are obvious now; whether e-cigarette advertising will cause the same effects in 40 years is debatable. 

Lack of scientific certainty is not a reason to ignore warnings from public health officials and doctors to steer clear from e-cigarettes. Aside from causing a number of deaths and injuries in the US, vaping could potentially affect the lungs and the brain. Further, the nicotine in e-cigarettes puts young people at risk of addiction. Ultimately, the qualified opinion of health professionals is more valuable than that of companies trying to make a profit.

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One Comment

  1. Chris Lalonde

    Claim 1: Vapes “are often marketed as being completely safe.” This is based on the testimony of a teen who claimed that JUUL representatives came to his school and ‘when all the teachers and adults left the room…” No one claims e-cigarettes are “completely safe”—they are prevented by law from doing so. ‘Safer’ is not ‘completely safe.’

    Claim 2: “Companies like Juul that target young people, offering products with fun flavours such as mango and mint.” When exactly did mango and mint become fun? Never mind…

    Claim 3: “With e-cigarettes, you have liquid nicotine that is usually in an oil solution…” There is no oil in nicotine e-liquid. It’s water soluble. But this fits nicely with the current THC/vitamin E acetate lung injury scare.

    Claim 4: “…the majority of e-cigarettes have nicotine content ranging from zero to 87 milligrams.” This is a wild exaggeration. There are NO retail e-liquids on the market at anywhere near 87mg/ml.

    Claim 5: “…a study found that vapour can irritate and disrupt the protective layers of the lungs in mice. Due to toxins in the vapour, e-cigarettes also pose potential threats to young people’s brain development.” All of these findings concern mice, not humans. Where are all the brain damaged smokers from earlier generations?

    Claim 6: “Lack of scientific certainty is not a reason to ignore warnings from public health officials and doctors to steer clear from e-cigarettes.” So smokers, continue to smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

    Claim 7: “Aside from causing a number of deaths and injuries in the US, vaping could potentially affect the lungs and the brain.” This is clearly designed to confuse people about what is causing the deaths in the US. It is illicit THC products purchased from drug dealers, not retail e-cigarette products. Even the CDC and FDA are admitting this now.

    Stop feeding the moral panic!

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