By Denise Tam, Holistic Nutritionist
What are E-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes, also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are devices that do not burn or use tobacco but instead simulate cigarettes by vaporizing a solution the user then inhales. E-cigraettes also go by, “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” “vapes,” “tank systems”. Solutions usually contain nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin and flavourings.
With almost 8,000 different flavours like fruits, soft drinks, chocolate, mint and other bizarre flavours, e-cigarettes are marketed as healthy and trendy products. The design of these e-cigarettes is similar to traditional cigarettes but are in the form of everyday items like pens, USB’s or other shapes with on trend colours that may peak the curiosity of teenagers.
Misleading our Youth?
The marketing strategy of e-cigarette companies are being questioned. They claim that these companies target the youth in their messaging, design and even pricing. Stores selling these vapes can be found in many places around Hong Kong, particularly before the ban announced earlier this year by the government. Ban or no ban, if you do a quick social search, you will find lots of online stores that are still selling these vape pens and teenagers and young adults that are still posting on social about vaping.
What’s more is that “most e-cigarettes do not provide details on their ingredients and only address the variety of flavours. They are marketed as non-addictive, aid for smoking cessation, accredited and environmentally friendly which misleads consumers on their safety and attract the youth to use,” as reported by Smoke Free Hong Kong. The affordability of these vape pens that can be reused is on average around $50-70HKD compared to $60 for a pack of Marlboros.
The Secondary School Smoking Survey 2012/13 conducted by the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong found that e-cigarette users were more likely to smoke cigarettes, had higher dependence of nicotine, less possibility to quit smoking and more likely to have respiratory symptoms such as cough and phlegm.
The lungs are amazing detoxifiers and filters. They contain around 1200 miles of capillaries and 300 million tiny air sacs. When we breathe, oxygen moves through these tiny air sacs into the bloodstream to fuel every cell in the body. Scarring in lungs occur from pollution, inhaling toxins like from cigarette smoke, vaping and even cooking with bad oils - yes, keep reading!
What is the situation in Hong Kong?
The current use rate of e-cigarettes among young smokers aged 15-19 years (15.8%) was significantly higher than that of smokers aged 30 years or above.
- The main reasons for e-cigarettes were curiosity and fashionable, instead of aiding smoking cessation.
- The global sales of e-cigarettes surged exponentially by over 120-fold to a total of US$3.5 billion in 2015 from US$20 million in 2008.
- Currently there are over 8,000 flavours of e-cigarettes in the global market targeting the youngsters who are curious and crave for novelties.
Data taken from Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health
Hong Kong had moved forward with a near total ban of E-cigarettes. Those who bring in, imports, makes, sells, distributes or promotes new smoking products – including e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn products and herbal cigarettes – could be subject to a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$50,000 if convicted. No nicotine vapes are exempted from this.
What are the known and potential harms of E-cigarettes?
Hong Kong Baptist University carried out laboratory tests on e-cigarettes sold in Hong Kong and found several harmful chemicals:
Source: Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health
The majority of vaping products contain a base compound that includes two ingredients- propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin
When these two are heated to a certain temperature, it usually forms toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and acid aldehydes.
The US had an outbreak of young teens and adults who were admitted to the hospital with complications in their breathing and lungs likely from vaping. A lot of these cases though were from marijuana and questionable sources of marijuana - like from friends or dealers. They had found that there was a type of oil, vitamin E in particular, that when heated at high temperatures produced a toxic substance that damaged the lungs.
This makes me question the flavoured oils that are used in these vapes and the type of chemicals they may be producing that is unknown to the user - or the manufacturer for that matter.
Other findings from these US outbreak cases also included scarring from metal which is typically found in metal workers. It is suggested that it could be from the heating of the coils in the e-cigarettes.
The findings in the US are consistent with what has been tested and found in Hong Kong.
PAH’s (found in the e-cigarettes tested in Hong Kong), are chemicals that can be formed when a substance that is either an oil or has contact with an oil is heated to high temperatures. This can also be a potential reason why housewives (who cook a lot) have a higher risk of lung cancer because of the oils they are exposed to. And this is also another reason why I always stress the importance of using good oils to stir fry and to never deep fry.
The Centre for Food Safety also reported that “certain methods of food preparation, including drying (e.g. drying food through direct contact of combustion gases), roasting, smoking and barbecuing, are recognised as important sources of food contamination with B[a]P,” a type of PAH.
In my opinion, Hong Kong made a good decision to ban these e-cigs, though with many things, it’s also about enforcement because it is still very easy to bring them in for personal consumption from abroad. I won’t get into the politics here, but with all things, whether we’re talking about GMO, pesticides, electronic frequencies, 5G, the fact is that many of these are still new, and we just don’t have enough data on safety, hence the conflicting and confusing information. However there is enough data suggesting harms, and so I personally just wouldn’t take these risks.
E-cigarettes may not be as harmful as smoking, though we technically do not have enough information to form this conclusion, it’s still introducing non-smokers to a form of smoking and you still get exposed to oils heated to high temperatures as well as the metal in the heating coil that has now been suggested to be found in vapers lungs.
If you are a smoker and looking to quit, I’d like to also suggest some inner healing and counselling.
A lot of the habits we form are responses to a hidden or buried emotional or psychological trauma or faulty belief system.
According to the American Psychology Association, “when smokers try to quit without medication or counseling, 4 percent to 6 percent will succeed. But those who get face-to-face counseling, nicotine-replacement therapy and medication can quadruple that success rate.”
Homeopathy, which uses flower essences that correlate and target or enhance specific emotions are also useful. Dr Bach no 48 Stop Tabac combines a variety of flower essences that strengthens your determination to free yourself from cigarettes.
In my books, in the debate of Vaping vs Cigarettes, both are losers. If you can look at the data of what is found in vapes or E-cigs and still think it’s safe, you’re probably in the same camp of people who just choose to believe that eating McDonald’s and drinking Coke is not causing harm to your body- or that you just don’t care.
This then no longer becomes a scientific debate. =)