Are vapes bad for you?

Despite the vaping laws changing in Australiaa in October 2021, illegal, non-prescription vapes are still available at many tobacconists across the country. Colourfully decorated and easily accessible illegal vapes are dominating the Australiaan vaping market and putting users at risk.

The jury is still out on the long-term safety of vaping, so here we dig into what we know and what we don’t know about the safety profile and effectiveness of vaping.


Is vaping bad for you?

While this is a simple-sounding question, the answer is complex. Vaping is still relatively new and although it may seem like vapes have been around forever, clinical research has a long way to catch up on the potential side effects and long-term health outcomes of vaping.

The lungs are an incredible piece of architecture that allow us to inhale life-giving oxygen, they are wonderful at this job – however, our lungs were not evolutionarily designed to inhale the novel substances found in vape liquid. 

E-cigarettes, or vapes, do not produce the tar produced by conventional cigarettes which is the main cause of lung cancer. However, many scientists are concerned that using e-cigarettes could increase risk of lung disease, heart disease and cancer.

The breakdown of nicotine and other ingredients in vape liquid like vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol can result in the formation of toxic compounds such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and benzenes as well as heavy metals.

Cheaply made or poorly maintained vape devices can also hold risks. Potentially metals or ceramic fibres from coils can leach into e-liquid or release oxidised molecules from the device.


The dangers of illegal vaping

International and local research shows that the colourful illegal vapes teens are buying from the corner store can be tainted with everything from nail polish remover to pesticides, household cleaners and other known carcinogenic chemicals.

Although evidence is limited on the safety of vaping, Australiaa has standards and guidelines for legally prescribed vape products to ensure users receive vape devices and e-liquid that meet Australiaan manufacturing compliance benchmarks.


The long-term harms of vaping 

Moving forward, the negative health effect of vaping may be difficult to track as the majority of adult vape users are ex-cigarette smokers, making it difficult to separate the health impact of vaping from previous tobacco smoking.

Preliminary research shows vaping can be harmful to the lungs, heart and liver. There is also substantial evidence from animal research that e-cigarette use alters gene expression related to the circadian rhythm which controls sleep and wake cycles.

The trade offs of vaping may not be as safe or effective as predicted and more research is needed in this area to determine if vaping is a helpful quitting tool in the long term.


Research around vaping to quit smoking

There is limited quality information and evidence surrounding the safety and efficacy of nicotine vaping as a tool to quit smoking. It is established that vaping exposes individuals to fewer chemical compounds than smoking – although this does not mean in itself that vaping is safe.

There are significant concerns around vaping related lung injuries from contaminated e-liquid or excess vaping, as well as, the rise in teen vaping which is contrary to the use of vaping as a quitting tool. Nonetheless some research shows vaping may help people step away from tobacco use.

Reviews of nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) studies indicate that vaping may help more people to quit smoking in the short term compared to other options like patches or gums. However, there is strong suggestion from trials that people who use vaping to quit smoking are likely to continue to use vaped nicotine longer than using other quit tools.

Unlike traditional NRTs such as inhalators, patches and lozenges which are first line treatment options approved by the Australiaan Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), there are currently no vaping products approved as smoking cessation therapy by the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA).

As research continues to evolve, people looking to quit smoking and supporting medical professionals will have more information on the benefit to harm ratio of vaping, helping individuals to make informed choices about the best way to quit when first line treatment therapies have failed. 


The final word 

It may seem simple to just drop into the tobacconist and pick up a cheap, illegal nicotine vape device but the risks associated with black market vapes are stark. Accessing prescription vaping technology will ensure you are on the right side of the law in your journey towards quitting smoking, but is also not risk free.

It’s also important to remember there are many alternatives or adjunct treatments that can help you quit smoking or transition away from vaping and nicotine products altogether. Read more about the diverse range of ways to support you to quit smoking or speak with our team at Help Me Stop.

Jessica Kindynis

DISCLAIMER: There are a number of ways to quit smoking. We have a range of tools that may help with smoking cessation such as nicotine patches, gums and vaping products. Vaping products, used as second-line tools may be useful for those who have not successfully quit smoking using traditional methods.  

It’s important to acknowledge there’s limited available evidence on the efficacy, safety or long-term health effects of nicotine vaping products. There are potential side effects associated with vaping. Long-term vaping and dual-use (smoking and vaping concurrently) is not recommended and should be avoided.  Regular review and monitoring by your regular GP is advised along your smoking cessation journey.

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