International concern around the use of the e-cigarette, or ‘vape’, has now extended into South Africa with many parents and concerned health professionals warning that despite the marketing of these traditional cigarette alternatives, they are not as healthy or harmless as many might think.
According to an article published by SABC News which was written by the chairperson of the National Council Against Smoking, Savera Kalideen, “18 deaths and over 1000 e-cigarette-related acute lung injuries have been reported in the United States, prompting the banning of flavoured e-cigarettes in the US” and this has resulted in India also banning e-cigarettes and vape products in a strong attempt to protect the health of its citizens.
However, studies on the long-term risks of e-cigarette usage have been inconclusive thus far and the current scientific literature seemingly does not afford health professionals the ability to make strong, detailed and conclusive statements about the consequences of using these products.
Although, with all things considered, it’s safe to say that fresh air undoubtedly remains the healthier inhalation option.
“Cigarettes kill roughly 50% of people that smoke…vaping is unlikely to kill 50% of people that use it,” said the Head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit (LCRU) at the University of Cape Town’s Lung Institute, Dr Richard Van Zyl-Smit, before adding that while vaping is unlikely to be as risky to as many people as traditional cigarettes, it remains relatively unhealthy in comparison to inhaling fresh air.
Dr Van Zyl-Smit cautioned many who assume that making the switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes will spare them money and health risks that it might not necessarily be the case in the long-run.
“We, as health professionals, suggest that breathing fresh air is the safest thing to do – so if you don’t do either, we advise that you don’t start either. Vaping is not cheap so you wont be saving any money by switching [from cigarettes to vapes] and we would not recommend it as a first option to switch and quit…
but it is something you could consider [when trying to quit traditional cigarettes] and we would consider it a step to just breathing fresh air.”
However, the question of using e-cigarettes as a viable means of quitting cigarettes remains a point of debate.
“Whether vaping helps you quit smoking is up for debate – it does seem to help some people but it’s not the best way to help you quit smoking,” said Dr Van Zyl-Smit.
Dr Van Zyl-Smit has also warned that just because e-cigarettes are safer than normal cigarettes, it does not mean that they are actually safe. There remain questions of whether vapes are gateways to traditional cigarette smoking and Dr Van Zyl-Smit even said that he’d prefer adolescents to start out with smoking normal cigarettes rather than electronic ones, as youth are more likely to quit smoking normal cigarettes faster due to the bad taste than they are when smoking e-cigarettes with fancy flavouring.
As far as the seemingly limitless flavours of e-cigarettes are concerned, the doctor warned that people need to realise that while some flavours are naturally safe for drinking or eating, they are not necessarily safe for inhalation.