Kim Delmonico OCBMAGONLINE.COM INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER

Vaping was initially promoted as a “safer” alternative to smoking because e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco.  But if you’ve been paying attention to recent news, you would know that there have been at least six deaths attributed to vaping and more than 450 possible cases of serious lung injuries related to vaping.

According to the National Center for Health Research, the patients reported cannabis products, a combination of cannabis and nicotine products, and nicotine products only.  So far, doctors believe that the cause of the deaths and injuries is chemical and not bacterial.  However, there needs to be additional investigation done before it is determined exactly what type of vaping is causing these injuries and deaths.

What is Vaping?

Vaping is the “act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device.”  According to the Center on Addiction, the aerosol that is often mistaken for water vapor actually consists of fine particles.  This particulate matter contains toxic chemicals, which have been linked to cancer and respiratory and heart disease.

Vaping grew in popularity with the rise of e-cigarettes, which have been available in the United States since 2007.  Generally, a piece of vaping equipment consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, a heating component, and a cartridge that contains the liquid or vape juice.  When the device is used, the battery powers the heating component, which turns the contents of the cartridge into an aerosol that can be inhaled.

The liquid that is contained in vape cartridges usually contains propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin-based liquid with nicotine, plus flavoring and other chemicals and metals.  Some people use vaping devices to consume cannabis.

The most popular vaping device is the JUUL, which is a small device about the size of a computer USB flash drive.  It’s small size and sleek design has made it easy to hide; which caused it to become hugely popular among middle and high school students.  JUUL now has about 72 percent of the market share for vaping products in the United States.

Is Vaping Safer than Traditional Smoking?

The key difference between traditional smoking and e-cigarettes is that e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco.  Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic.  Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, has said of vaping “there’s almost no doubt that they expose you to fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes.”

However, e-cigarettes do contain many other chemicals that have been proven harmful.

The FDA has been issuing warning about e-cigarettes since 2009.  In one study, the FDA detected a toxic compound found in antifreeze, tobacco-specific compounds that have been shown to cause cancer in humans, and other toxic tobacco-specific impurities.  Another study looked at 42 of liquid vape cartridges and determined that they contained formaldehyde,  a chemical known to cause cancer in humans. Formaldehyde was found in several of the cartridges at levels much higher than the maximum EPA recommends for humans.

In 2017, a study published in the Public Library of Science Journal showed that significant levels of benzene, a well-known carcinogen, were found in the vapor produced by several popular brands of e-cigarettes.

Vaping also has been shown to cause injury much more quickly than traditional smoking.  Traditional smoking can cause cancer, heart disease, and other serious conditions.  However, it usually takes years or decades of smoking before a smoker experiences these types of consequences.  Recently, it’s become clear that vaping can cause seizures and serious lung damage with only around one year of vaping.

Even our president has noted the dangers of vaping.  In a recent tweet, President Donald Trump said, “While I like the Vaping alternative to Cigarettes, we need to make sure this alternative is SAFE for ALL! Let’s get counterfeits off the market, and keep young children from Vaping!”

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As President Trump mentions, counterfeit vapes are very common and there is no way to determine what is contained within these products.  This is why, if you choose to vape, it is important to buy from a reputable source.  What other safety advice can you follow if you continue to choose to vape?

How to Vape Safely?

If you are a medical marijuana patient and you are going to vape, here are a few tips for doing it in as safe a way as possible:

  • Use the Device with the Manufacturer’s Charger and Correct Battery – It’s safest to use the charge that came with your device and the type of battery that is designed for your device.  Using a different charger or battery increases the chance of having problems with your device.  Follow all directions that came with your device.  Never leave it plugged in overnight.  Make sure that your device’s battery terminal is clean.  As a best practice, clean the battery terminal every few weeks.  Be aware of any recalls on the device or the battery that you use.
  • Use Temperature Control Mods – Some studies have shown that e-cigarettes can release a lot of formaldehyde.  In general, more chemical reactions will take place at higher temperatures.  If you use a temperature control mod, this limits the maximum temperature the coil can reach and may help prevent the formation of as many toxic chemicals.
  • Don’t Dry Burn Your Coils – Dry burning your coils is what happens when you press the fire button without a wick inserted in the coil and with no e-liquid.  People sometimes do this to check for even temperature distribution or to clean residue.  However, when this is done, the temperature gets very high (over 700 degrees Celsius or 1,290 degrees Fahrenheit).  This high temperature combined with the corrosive effects of some vaping liquids can affect the structure of the metal in the vaping device and allow more metal into the vapor. 
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