The health risks of using electronic cigarettes—also known as vaping—is the subject of an anti-smoking ad campaign by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), featuring harrowing personal stories from ex-smokers.
One poster ad features an ex-smoker named “Kristy” who tried to use e-cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco cigarettes but ended up doing both, and in the end suffered a collapse of her right lung.
“These former smokers are helping save tens of thousands of lives by sharing their powerful stories of how smoking has affected them,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden.
An e-cigarette is a battery-powered vaporizer with a heating element that atomizes a liquid nicotine solution derived from tobacco plants.
E-cigarettes have been in vogue for the past few years, being touted as a healthier alternative to tobacco smoking and a way to wean off the habit. Vaping rates have reached record highs as traditional smoking continues to decline, and now high school students are more likely to vape than to smoke.
But a backlash has gradually built up against vaping, with many calling e-cigarette products—which often feature fruit and dessert flavors more popular among teens—as a gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes.
In January, the California Department of Public Health released a report calling e-cigarettes a health threat, and a California state senator introduced legislation to have public area smoking bans to also apply to vaping.
“These data suggest that a new generation of young people will become addicted to nicotine, accidental poisonings of children will continue, and involuntary exposure to secondhand aerosol emissions will impact the public’s health if e-cigarette marketing, sales, and use continue without restriction,” the report reads.
Smoke and Mirrors
The research on whether vaping is an effective tobacco deterrent is shrouded in smoke and mirrors. People who vape are more likely to smoke—99 percent of those who vape are past or current smokers, according to the CDC—but it’s difficult to untangle whether vaping was a bridge to smoking or a merely a prelude for someone already destined to become a smoker.
Studies have linked vaping to a decline of smoking by 1 percent in France, but natural experiments of whether vaping can help people quit are hard to come by.
Pro-vaping advocates have no shortage of personal accounts of ex-smokers who attributed their success in the transitory period to vaping, but plenty of smokers have quit before vaping was ever popular. Moreover, the decline in smoking is a long-term trend that began far before e-cigarettes were available to the general public.
Still, cigarette to cigarette, the superiority of vaping to analog smoking seems clear. Researchers find that typical e-cigarettes contain 200 times fewer toxins like aldehydes than the typical Marlboro cigarette, and two-thirds less nicotine.
Some argue that restrictions on e-cigarettes would only benefit big tobacco companies. Others have dismissed the dangers of vaping by pointing out that if it were a gateway to smoking, the data would show more young people smoking, when in fact the opposite is true.