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E-cigarettes are fraught with harmful effects

There has been an explosion of many versions of e-cigarettes in the last few years. This has been a veiled attempt to mitigate the already known risks of smoking traditional cigarettes. But e-cigarettes are trendy, and have becoming increasingly attractive not only to smokers trying to quit, but to newer and younger smokers. Over time, there’s ongoing realization that e-cigarettes may not actually be a safer alternative.

But what actually are e-cigarettes? They are handheld battery powered vaporizers that simulate the action of smoking, without actually burning tobacco as in traditional cigarettes. A liquid solution is heated up to a vapor, which the user inhales, hence the term vaping. The liquid solution may have many ingredients that include nicotine, flavors and other additives. E-cigarettes have become big business, with estimates of about 500 brands, and global sales upwards of 7 billion USD.

E-cigarettes are generally thought to be safer than combusted tobacco products, with their lower health risks being compared to smokeless tobacco. They have also been credited with helping smokers to quit the habit, and reducing the overall tobacco related health risks that include cardiovascular disease and cancers. Nevertheless, there are ongoing concerns about the ingredients contained within the e-cigarette liquids. The inhaled vapor may contain potentially harmful chemicals, toxicants, carcinogens and even heavy metal particles that can cause disease.

There are indeed ongoing reports of severe lung problems resulting from vaping. It appears the inhaled vapors can cause harmful changes within small blood vessels in the lungs, leading to cumulative lung damage. It doesn’t stop there, damage to blood vessels in other organs like the heart and brain will subsequently lead to cardiovascular and neurological disease. Continued vaping, especially with brands containing nicotine, risks the danger of addiction and longterm health risks. There have also been the odd reports of some e-cigarettes exploding whilst charging or in use. Some have suffered severe burns and other injuries, necessitating corrective surgery.

So what’s the way out for those attracted to vaping? Well, if you have never smoked, don’t be swayed by the e-cigarette trend. It may look fancy and recreational, but it may end up being the wrong health path for you. For those trying to quit from traditional cigarettes, vaping may reduce the toxic effects accruing from combusted tobacco. But it isn’t a harmless substitute. Never forget that even without nicotine, e-cigarettes are still harmful. Other forms of nicotine replacement and quitting aides may be healthier alternatives. In the long run, you are better off quitting completely. No traditional cigarettes, no vaping, no nothing.

Some authorities have re-emphasized the obvious: there is never any need to inhale anything else except air! The only exceptions are certain medications, like the inhalers commonly used by asthmatics.

Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist. amurage@mygyno.co.ke

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