US tells smokers to 'stop vaping': what are the health implications of e-cigarettes?

A second death has been linked to vaping [Photo: Getty]

A second person has died in the US from a severe lung disease thought to be caused by vaping, public health officials have revealed.

It has prompted the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention to tell people to stop using e-cigarettes pending investigation.

“While this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products,” Dr Dana Meaney Delman, who is leading an investigation into the 450 cases said.

The person was said to have fallen ill after trying a product bought at a dispensary for recreational cannabis.

The first vaping death was reported in Illinois back in August.

Experts are currently investigating a mysterious lung disease linked to use of e-cigarettes which has affected around 150 people around the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 149 people nationwide had contracted a severe respiratory illness after vaping.

In the past e-cigarettes have been marketed as a way to enjoy smoking with fewer of the health risks of traditional cigarettes, but news of a second death will no doubt have people questioning their safety.

So just how safe is vaping?

There’s no doubt the advice surrounding the safety of vaping is somewhat conflicted.

"Numerous studies from health groups in the UK have concluded that using an e-cigarette, known as vaping, is better for your health compared to smoking,” explains Dr Diana Gall, from www.doctor-4-u.co.uk.

“A report by Public Health England, which was compiled by several UK-based academics, found that vaping is 95% safer than smoking. Cancer Research UK has also given its support to people using vaping as a means of fighting against smoking related diseases.”

Experts believe one of the main reasons is because e-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco, so should therefore eliminate the risks associated with tar.

“When you smoke or use an e-cigarette, you inhale nicotine, but unlike smoking, the nicotine from e-cigarettes comes in a vapor and doesn’t require burning tobacco,” Dr Gall explains.

“That means that vaping does not expose the body to unpleasant substances such as tar and carbon monoxide, which can cause cancers and are among the biggest threats to health when smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products.”

READ MORE: Need to quit smoking? Try sniffing chocolate, say scientists

Surely nicotine has some health risks though?

“Some people do mistakenly believe that nicotine itself is dangerous, which would make vaping almost as dangerous as smoking,” Dr Gall explains.

“But while nicotine is addictive, it cannot cause smoking-related diseases such as cancers or heart disease.”

According to Dr Gall pure nicotine is a toxic compound, but the nicotine found in tobacco, e-liquids and nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) is not pure enough to be poisonous.

“So reports of this being an issue for consumers are exceptionally rare,” she adds.

Just how safe is vaping? [Photo: Getty]

Vaping isn’t without health risks

While many experts believe vaping is much less damaging to health compared to smoking, recent research has cast an element of doubt over those health beliefs.

Researchers from the University of Athens recently found that flavourings in e-cigarettes harm the lungs by causing inflammation.

Smokers looking to quit often turn to vaping in the belief that it is better for their health, but analysis, conducted on mice, showed that even in the short-term, the inflammation vaping caused was similar or worse than conventional cigarettes.

Researchers compared several groups of mice that received whole-body exposure to varying chemical combinations four times each day, with every session separated by 30-minute smoke-free intervals.

The results, published in the American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular, found that even short term use causes as much or even more damage as the real thing.

Other research has raised questions about the chemicals in e-cigarettes.

“Certain studies have found certain chemicals in e-cigarette vapour that are the same than those found in cigarette smoke, but they are at much lower levels,” explains Dr Gall.

Further research has found that nicotine or other molecules found in e-cigarettes can still impact lung health.

The US is so concerned about the potential health implications of vaping they are considering whether to impose a ban.

According to latest figures from the US, e-cigarettes are now the top high-risk substance used by teenagers despite laws prohibiting sales to those under 18.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now warning that if the trend continues there could be an outright ban.

READ MORE: What do e-cigarettes really do to your body?

Being vape safe

While the information about the health risks associated with vaping may be somewhat confusing, there are some steps you can take to ensure you’re being as vape-safe as possible.

“The safest thing to do is to use high quality, official e-cigarette products,” advises Dr Gall.

“There are tight regulations for selling e-cigarettes in the UK, so you’re likely to be safe using them as long as you use them properly and avoid bootleg vaping products which could contain more harmful substances.”

It’s important to follow guidelines with regards to charging too.

“There have been reports of e-cigarettes catching fire or exploding, but the main cause of this issue is using the wrong charger,” Dr Gall says.

“As long as you use the right charger for your e-cigarette and avoid leaving them charging unattended or overnight, then nothing should go wrong with them.”

According to Dr Gall if you are pregnant, then leading UK baby charities recommend using NRT products such as gum and patches to stop you smoking.

“However, if you find vaping useful to stay smoke-free, then this is much safer for you and your baby compared to smoking," she adds.