We’ll start with the good news. Unlike traditional cigarettes, there’s no tobacco being burnt when you vape – so you’re not inhaling tar, carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals that cause the most harm to the body. Instead, a battery heats a coil, which warms a cartridge or tank of vaping liquid made from propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, a flavouring – and nicotine.
This creates a vapour that you inhale, offering an experience similar to smoking. “At the moment, when using a vape that meets regulations, the health risks are smaller than the risk of cigarettes,” says GP and specialist in women’s health. Dr Patel.
A tool to quit
Indeed, vaping can help smokers to cut back, as you still get that nicotine hit. Research found that people who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking (alongside expert in-person support) were twice as likely to stop smoking as those who used nicotine replacement products, such as patches or gum.
With a packet of cigarettes now averaging around R40, it also helps us spend less money. “But you should plan to eventually quit vaping too, once you know you won’t be tempted to go back to cigarettes,” adds Dr Patel.
E-cigarettes are far from harmless
“Most patients report a dry mouth and throat, a cough and headaches. This is due to the nicotine, as well as the mixture of chemicals and toxins being inhaled in the vapour,” says GP Dr Raj Arora.
Long-term vapers could also be at risk of serious lung problems. E-cigarettes can contain vitamin E acetate, a synthetic form of vitamin E, which can lead to lung damage. It can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and rapid heartbeat.
Your oral health might suffer too. “Vaping reduces your salivary flow, which plays a vital part in neutralising acids after eating and also helps to wash away harmful bacteria in the mouth,” says Dr Alan Clarke, the clinical director at Paste Dental. So, while your breath might not smell of cigarettes, you may in fact be increasing your risk of halitosis from tooth decay and gum disease caused by vaping.
For non-smokers, starting to vape is never a good idea, especially if you have a lung condition, says Professor Nick Hopkinson, the medical director of Asthma + Lung UK. Plus, vapers may actually inhale more nicotine than smokers. This is because the average cigarette lasts for about 10 puffs, while a vape cartridge has nearer to 600 puffs, which can make it harder to put down.
Be shop aware
You may have noticed a vape shop pop up in your neighbourhood, but some sellers might not be adhering to regulations for e-liquids containing nicotine. So only ever buy from a reputable seller and read the label.
As with traditional cigarettes, those of us who don’t vape could be at risk of passive vaping. While more research is needed, a US study in 2022 concluded that secondhand nicotine vape exposure was associated with increased risk of bronchitic symptoms and shortness of breath.
Beat the habit
Whether you want to stop smoking or vaping, these simple tricks could help:
- Put something else in your mouth! Smoking and vaping are orally fixated habits, so give your mouth something else to do. Try a sugar-free lollipop, a drink with a straw or some chewing gum instead.
- Leave your vice in another room Out of sight, out of mind. Putting whatever you puff on out of your line of vision can make you less tempted to reach for it.
- Do you reach for a puff when you’re feeling bored? Keep your hands – and your mind – occupied with a stress ball, fidget spinner, sudoku or Rubik’s Cube.
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