PHOTOS: FRED LOPEZ
Many smokers are turning to vaping as an alternative to cigarettes. There’s no question that graduating from cigs to e-cigs to no cigs is the healthiest decision smokers can make. Of course, some people cannot quit altogether. For these people, the question remains: is vaping a safer alternative than traditional cigarettes?
Danielle Harris had stopped smoking Marlboro Reds for two-and-a-half years when she strongly considered starting again. She was raising two children by herself, working full-time, and taking several nursing courses at College of Central Florida.
“I was stressed and felt cigarettes could relieve my stress,” said Danielle, a resident of Lady Lake.
Instead, she began using e-cigarettes. That was nearly three years ago and she has no regrets.
“I don’t cough up mucus in the morning, and I no longer have any wrinkles around my mouth,” said Danielle, who today is 27. “Cigarettes were actually starting to age my skin. But the main reason I quit is because when my son was nine months old he began reaching for my cigarettes and lighters. That bothered me.”
Also, smoking cigarettes was not conducive to her active lifestyle. Danielle enjoys outdoor activities, namely mountain climbing and diving at local springs.
“The great thing about e-cigarettes is that you don’t crave nicotine the way you do with cigarettes. With cigarettes, your whole day is centered around them and making sure you can get away to enjoy a cigarette break. It’s not like this with e-cigarettes. I carry my e-cigarette around with me all the time, but I only actually use it several times a day.”
A cigarette smoker of 15 years, Lady Lake resident Corey Chancellor understood he needed to quit.
For starters, he was spending about $42 a week, or approximately $2,184 a year, on packs of Marlboro Menthol Lights. In addition, he had developed the dreaded smoker’s cough and occasionally had high blood pressure, a side effect of smoking.
Kicking the habit proved difficult. He tried quitting cold turkey, chewing nicotine gum, and even wearing nicotine patches. Nothing worked.
Then, three years ago, he purchased a battery-operated device that delivers flavorful vaporized nicotine with the simple touch of a button. This latest alternative to smoking, known as e-cigarettes or vaping, does not include tobacco, tar, and other dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes.
For the first time, he discovered an effective solution that not only allowed him to quit smoking cigarettes but also yielded positive results.
“I haven’t smoked a real cigarette in three years,” says Corey, a graduate of Leesburg High School. “Within months, I regained my sense of smell and taste and stopped hacking up mucus. My blood pressure is lower.” He also has more money in his pocket. Corey spends only $23 a week on a 30-milliliter bottle of e-juice and replacement heating coils—nearly half of what he was paying for packs of cigarettes. And he no longer has to deal with overflowing ashtrays, odor on his clothing, and the dreaded smoker’s breath.
Corey believes in the product so much that two years ago he opened his own e-cigarette company, Purity Vapor, in Lady Lake. Inside his shop are battery-powered vaporizers and nicotine-infused e-liquids that come in flavors such as strawberry milkshake, Kentucky bourbon, and maple syrup. The e-cigarettes contain short bursts of nicotine, but the ultimate goal is to use the nicotine on a decreasing basis until it is eliminated altogether.
“It’s common for people to continue using e-cigarettes even after they’ve weaned themselves off nicotine,” Corey says.
“They still enjoy that habitual hand-to-mouth routine, which for many smokers is part of the addiction. I would say that 95 percent of my customers have been able to quit cigarettes altogether.”
A cloud of controversy
Are e-cigarettes safe? Sometimes misleading and sensationalistic campaigns by various agencies—namely anti-smoking groups and Big Tobacco—have convinced many Americans that traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes are one in the same and wreak an equal amount of havoc on the body. They outright condemn e-cigarettes. In defense, vaping proponents argue that most of the toxic components that cause bodily harm from smoking cigarettes are either absent or present at much lower levels in e-cigarettes.
Hearing conflicting stories, statistics, and reports may leave many wondering whom and what to believe. Therefore, whether vaping is 100 percent safe is not the most relevant question in this debate. The $64 million-dollar question is this: Is vaping safer than smoking? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes is less harmful to a person’s health.
Perhaps the most compelling arguments come from ex-smokers themselves. Joe Braga, a resident of Mount Dora, smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 18 years. Three years ago, he switched to e-cigarettes and is now vaping at the lowest nicotine level. From a health standpoint, it was one of the best decisions he ever made.
“Six months after I quit smoking I ran a 5k for charity,” says Joe, accessories manager of Plaza Cadillac in Leesburg. “I was amazed how much better I could breathe and how much better I could smell. I never gained any weight, either. Many people who suddenly stop smoking raid the cupboard and gain like 30 or 40 pounds.”
E-cigarettes have proven beneficial for other types of smokers, as well. Joe Gould, who was born with asthma, formerly smoked three packs of Black and Mild cigars each day. Experiencing mild breathing problems, he began using e-cigarettes two years ago and hasn’t smoked another cigar since. “Food tastes a lot better these days,” says Joe, a resident of Hernando County who works at Vapor Warriors in Leesburg. “Also, I can take deeper, fuller breaths and no longer have to use an inhaler or other breathing treatments.
”E-cigs are 95 percent safer Evidence exists as to why those who vape feel better than they did while smoking cigarettes.
The biggest landmark study was conducted in 2015 by the Public Health England, an agency of Britain’s Department of Health. The study concluded that e-cigarettes are 95 percent safer than traditional cigarettes and could one day be dispensed as an anti-smoking product.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not produce carcinogenic tars and toxic gases—including carbon monoxide—that increase risk of cardiovascular disease. E-cigarettes do contain varying levels of nicotine (which is determined by the user), but nicotine is only dangerous because it causes addiction, not cancer or heart disease. What famous tobacco researcher Michael Russell said in 1976 stills holds true today: “People smoke for the nicotine, but they die from the tar.”
The study also noted that two of the main chemicals found in e-cigarettes—vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol—have not been associated with any serious health risks. In fact, vegetable glycerin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is widely used in low carbohydrate foods to add moisture and sweetness. Propylene glycol is also FDA-approved for use in food, and it is also commonly used in cosmetic products and pharmaceutical inhalers. However, propylene may cause allergic reactions resulting in minor skin irritation in a small percentage of people.
Another study was conducted by Lorillard Tobacco Company, which bought the e-cigarette manufacturer, Blu. The company hired Drs. Rana Tayyarah and Gerald Long to examine and compare the toxicity of vapor released from e-cigarettes to the smoke emitted from cigarettes. Using a smoking machine to carry out the study, the doctors concluded that levels of harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) in cigarette smoke were 1,500 times higher than the levels found in e-cigarette vapor. This 2014 study was published in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.
Having smoked a pack-and-a-half of Marlboro Black 100s each day, Valorie Graham of Ocala grew tired of spitting up mucus, being short-winded, and staring at stained teeth in the mirror.
So the 18 year old made a life-changing decision. She quit smoking and switched to e-cigarettes.
“I didn’t want to one day end up on an oxygen tank,” said Valorie, who drives from Ocala to Purity Vapor in Lady Lake to purchase her vaping products. “Also, seeing my father’s disappointed face every time I smoked was another reason I wanted to quit. And I found that I couldn’t run for 30 seconds without having to stop.”
Healthy Living actually interviewed Valorie the day after she stopped smoking. She has already noticed positive benefits.
“The flavor I’m vaping is Harvest Berry, so I actually smell like fruit instead of tobacco. At this point, I still have a desire to light up a cigarette, but the craving is not so intense that I’m giving into it. I can attribute that to my e-cigarette. It is helping satisfy my craving for nicotine.”
Levels of formaldehyde in e-cigs are also 250 times lower than tobacco cigarette smoke. This was determined in 2015 by world-renowned cardiologist Dr. Knostantinos Farsalinos, who has been conducting scientific studies on e-cigarettes since 2007. His study was in response to a Harvard University study claiming e-cigs produced large quantities of formaldehyde. However, Dr. Farsalinos discovered that the Harvard University study was flawed because the vaporizers were fired at extremely high temperatures with no liquid, causing the cotton wick to combust and producing false results.
Second-hand e-cigarette smoke
At some point, you’ve probably seen an e-cigarette user blowing a large cloud of smoke in a public venue. How dangerous is it to be exposed to secondhand vapor? Constantinos Sioutas, a professor at the University of Southern California School of Engineering, and his colleagues at the National Institute of Cancer Research in Italy conducted a study in 2014 to better answer this question. During the study, volunteer subjects gathered in offices and rooms—the environments where people are likely to be exposed to second-hand e-cigarette smoke—and smoked regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes. After researchers had collected particles in the indoor air, they studied the chemical content and sources of the samples. When examining secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes, they concluded there was a 10-fold decrease in exposure to harmful particles and close-to-zero exposure to organic carcinogens.
A gateway to smoking?
Staunch critics feel the vaping revolution may ultimately lead users into smoking and becoming addicted to real cigarettes. However, the truth is that most e-cigarette users are already smokers or former smokers. That was proven in a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the study, only 0.4 percent of people who never smoked currently use e-cigarettes. But here’s the big news: The study also showed that 55.4 percent of smokers who quit tobacco did so by using e-cigarettes and vapor products. In other words, e-cigs are much more effective in helping people quit traditional cigarettes rather than getting them hooked.
E-cigarette opponents often claim that those who vape risk developing “popcorn lung,” a chronic respiratory disease. That’s because some of the e-cigarette flavors contained the chemical diacetyl, which is found in popcorn, butter, beer, and candy. In 2002, eight workers from a Missouri popcorn plant developed this irreversible disease, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Traditional cigarettes contain twice the amount of diacetyl. However, neither vaping nor cigarette smoking have been linked to popcorn lung. Moreover, nearly all e-liquids no longer contain diacetyl.
To vape or not to vape?
Non-smokers and non-tobacco users—as well as children and teenagers—should not start vaping if they never have. After all, becoming addicted to nicotine is an expensive habit, and there have been no long-term studies conducted to reveal what years of vaping may do to a body. But for cigarette smokers who are turning to e-cigarettes to help them quit, there is enough evidence to support the claim that vaping is less harmful to the body than traditional cigarettes. The toxic components that make traditional cigarettes so dangerous are either absent from e-cigarettes or present at much lower levels. That said, the ultimate goal for any smoker is to no longer smoke or vape.