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Fact-check: Vaping not a safe alternative to smoking

Published on Tue 25 Apr 2023 at 11:22

There are potential long-term health risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes. 

By Zoya Hussain

Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes are popularly perceived as a smoking cessation tool. Unlike combustible cigarettes, vaping devices don’t emit tar, reinforcing the idea that vaping is safer than smoking. However, their efficacy and safety as a quitting aid have not yet been firmly established. 

In 2019, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) published white papers on the harmful effects of vaping (inhaling of a vapor created by an e-cigarette), advocating for its prohibition. The report highlighted that e-cigarette use has “adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, fetal development and pregnancy, immune cell function, and airways, similar to the negative impact of smoking cigarettes, and can lead to serious respiratory disease.”

Dr Aravind Sai Kalinga, a consultant pulmonologist based in Hyderabad, India, concurs. “Most e-cigarettes contain three components: Nicotine, a solvent, and chemical flavours. Nicotine is a highly-addictive substance known to slow the development of the brain in fetuses, children, and teens. A solvent contains propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which can produce lung disease hazards not previously observed in cigarette smokers. Findings suggest that propylene glycol has oral and nasal irritants and causes squamous cell metaplasia,” says the pulmonologist.

While some studies suggest that vaping may be less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes, Dr Aravind notes that “it is not accurate to say that the risks or harms of vaping are only a small fraction of those associated with regular cigarettes”.

Based on the available evidence, it’s clear that vaping is not a risk-free activity, and there are potential long-term health risks associated with it. Experts note the need for comprehensive, high-quality studies to establish the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool.