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A Cloud of Confusion

How safe is “vaping,” really?

You’ve seen them around—you might even use one. We’re talking about electronic cigarettes, of course. E-cigarettes, or vaporizers, were popularized several years ago as a tobacco-free source of nicotine for smokers. Unlike regular cigarettes, vaporizers don’t burn, eliminating much of the danger caused by traditional smoking. They often look like the real thing and can deliver a similar experience to smoking, affectionately referred to as “vaping.” The term “vaping” comes from the vapor that’s produced by the device, similar to a fog machine at a rock concert. There are three main types of vaporizers, each with varying levels of nicotine and vaping control. Some even offer vapors with no nicotine at all.

If you’re like most people, you want to know one thing—is it safe? With 480,000 deaths each year caused by tobacco smoke, experts agree that vaping is certainly the lesser of two evils. “There’s no question that a puff on an e-cigarette is less toxic than a puff on a regular cigarette,” says Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California (U of C) in San Francisco. But does that mean it’s safe?

Recently, many studies have emerged highlighting the potential risks associated with vaping. One major concern is the production of formaldehyde, a carcinogen found in regular cigarettes. One study has concluded that a vaporizer running at a very high voltage can produce dangerous levels of formaldehyde, putting users at risk of cancer. However, this concern is contestable, due to the fact that most users would never vape at a voltage high enough for this to be a real concern. Vaping at a high voltage creates a burning taste that’s been found to be unbearable by users. This causes users to stop far short of the voltage needed to produce the carcinogen.

Another study completed by the U of C did highlight some risk, claiming that e-cigarettes deliver high levels of nanoparticles, which can sometimes trigger inflammation linked to asthma, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. While regular cigarette smoke produces far more dangerous nanoparticles, there’s still some amount of risk in vaping, especially for those with a history of heart disease.

So what’s the answer—yay or nay? Safe or poison? The truth is, at the end of the day, we still don’t really know. No doubt vaping is a smarter alternative to smoking, but it would be difficult to call it “safe” just yet. Because of the risks to young people by nicotine, children and teens should still definitely abstain from using vaporizers. Fun candy-like flavorings can make vaporizers appealing to kids, so parents should be aware and talk with their children about the dangers of nicotine during their development, as well as its ability to cause addiction. As for adults, be mindful when making a decision about vaporizers—there are no inherent health benefits to vaping and some potential risks. More research is needed to draw an accurate conclusion, and only time will tell. But for now, the jury is out on this one.

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