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Smoking and Vaping: Is One Healthier Than the Other?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) tobacco products kill approximately 5 million people annually, worldwide.  Tragically, 600,000 deaths annually are non-smokers who contract diseases or health implications from second hand smoke.   The latest data shows that tobacco kills up to half of its users; 50% of people who smoke will contract cancer, heart disease or die from other complications as a result of tobacco use, and the World Health Organization estimates that the are more than 1 billion chronic tobacco users in the world, as of 2016. It seemed as though the medical community may have been winning the war against tobacco use in North America, until the introduction of the electronic cigarette and the practice of vaping.  Suddenly, two of the most offensive aspects of smoking were resolved, as vaping reduced the risk for second hand smoke inhalation, and eliminated the odor of tobacco on clothing, hands and furnishings.   Electronic cigarettes were also promoted as an effective way to quit smoking traditional tobacco products, and briefly thought of as less harmful than traditional cigarette smoking.  New research studies demonstrate that long-term or daily vaping causes significant lung damage. If you have recently switched from cigarette smoking to using an electronic cigarette (vape), read some of the data and research that demonstrates it is not a ‘healthier’ alternative.  We will share some research to inspire you, or someone you care about, to keep quitting until being smoke and vape free sticks for good.

Why is Nicotine Addictive in the First Place?
Did you know that nicotine activates the release of dopamine in the brain?   When someone who enjoys smoking inhales a cigarette, even a single inhalation, it triggers a chemical process that is as pleasurable as eating chocolate.   Chocolate can be somewhat addictive too, as consuming it releases phenylethylamine (functions like an amphetamine) which triggers your body to release dopamine. Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone in the brain, but it is a little more complex than many people realize.  Whether enjoying a piece of chocolate cake or a cigarette, which is triggered is the emotion of “reward” in the brain, and according to the National Institute on Drug Use, it is responsible for emotions of motivation and reward. As nicotine levels in your blood stream decline, your brain signals that it is “missing something” of value that it needs.  The desire to smoke is as strong as other biological needs, including the desire to eat food or drink water when thirsty, because it is formulated in a very primal way, by the brain. When you vape or have a cigarette or cigar, you restore an adequate nicotine level to your bloodstream, which is registered by your brain.   The same satisfaction you feel after eating when hungry, or drinking water after being profoundly thirsty; the emotions are communicated the same way after you have reintroduced nicotine to your body.  You have the emotion of a reward, after fulfilling a need. There is nothing relaxing about the biological and physiological aspects of nicotine, and its impact on the body.  The relaxing feeling that smokers enjoy is completely as a result of dopamine being released into the brain.   The chemicals found in both tobacco products and in concentrated vape oils can elevate blood pressure, increase physiological stress and symptoms of anxiety, in addition to other unpleasant physical effects.  It is all about a small, chemical signal passed from one neuron to the next, and the emotion of being “rewarded”. It takes an average of 72 hours to eliminate and detoxify nicotine from the brain, but removing the drug and its impact on all receptors it de-sensitized and grew (up-regulation of nicotinic receptors) can take up to 2-3 weeks.   As long as a smoker is motivated and supported by family and friends, becoming a non-smoker (from a chemical perspective) can happen in as little as four weeks. Miraculously, your lungs start to repair themselves after smoking cessation, and often within thirty-days after your last cigarette.  Many people experience excessive coughing after they have quit smoking, but that is part of the detoxification process, as your lungs work to remove tar and other chemical residues from the bronchi and alveoli.

Think Twice About Using an Electronic Cigarette
They are convenient and affordable, and seem to be a ‘healthier’ alternative to cigarette smoking, but vaping is not a healthy move in the right direction.  In fact, by August of 2016, all e-cigarette manufacturers must register their products with the FDA to prove safety standards. The use of propellants in vaping is a primary concern, as is the use of diacetyl, a compound that is frequently used in artificial flavoring for food products, including snack foods and dairy items.  Studies have determined that diacetyl, while virtually harmless when consumed as a dietary product, is a health risk when heated and inhaled into the lungs. Popcorn Lung is an irreversible condition, where inflammation and permanent scarring of the bronchioles in the lung occur, restricting air flow.    The only ‘cure’ for the condition is a lung transplant, but the medical community is concerned as the chemical diacetyl is present in more than 75% of e-cigarette flavored fluids on the market. Some brands also contain carcinogenic e-liquids, which can include formaldehyde. 

Read: “On the Vapor Trail: Examining the Chemical Content of E-Cigarette Flavorings”.

Some researchers agree that cigarettes have a profoundly higher concentration of carcinogens and other dangerous chemicals, when compared to e-cigarettes and vaping, and many people have used vaping to quit smoking for good.  However, from a health perspective, to protect yourself against lung inflammation, cancers and other health risks, zero inhalants should be the goal.  Remember to consult with your physician for advice on kicking the habit, and recommendations on the best smoking cessation approach that will work for you.

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