I was at one of my favorite restaurants just before COVID-19 restrictions, and there was an adjacent table with multiple folks vaping, creating quite a cloud of vapor.

We asked to be reseated, and the manager asked why we were concerned. His attitude was it was just water vapor. At the very least, I told him I didn’t want my guest and I inhaling the nicotine in the vapor. It turns out there’s much more to be concerned about in addition to the nicotine.

Vaping is the most prevalent tobacco practice among young people. The U.S. Surgeon General calls the situation an epidemic among this group. New research indicates those who vape are at a significantly higher risk for COVID-19.

Recent reports suggest the COVID-19 risk has decreased the numbers of those vaping. And, let’s also remember the spontaneous ignition of the lithium batteries in the vaping devices — everyone has probably seen the images of someone’s pants pocket catching on fire.

Many people believe that electronic cigarettes are safer and a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco products. The full spectrum of the health effects of smoking cigarettes has been known for many years. Health concerns among smokers include lung and other cancers, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, periodontal disease and heart disease. A major concern about the use of tobacco products is the generation of secondhand smoke.

Many health effects have been documented for secondhand smoke, which contains more than 7,000 chemicals, at least 70 of which have been proven to be carcinogenic. Secondhand tobacco smoke can cause more frequent asthma attacks, respiratory infections, coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, among many other issues.

Vaping product companies have promoted e-cigarettes as safe, but this isn’t true. E-cigarettes deliver nicotine to the lungs by heating the vapor solution. Eliminating the burning tobacco eliminates some of the harmful toxic products of tobacco and its combustion products, but the vapor contains aerosol particles and toxic chemicals, including carbonyls, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, nitrosamines, heavy metals, formaldehyde and glycols. Flavored vaping cartridges are another concern because the flavoring ingredients often produce additional toxic chemicals.

While there’s no secondhand smoke released during vaping, exhaled vapor does contain all of the same chemicals as the vaping solution, and the chemicals generated by the heating process in the device.

These toxic chemicals are exhaled to contaminate the air, and they can be inhaled by others or land and persist on surfaces where they can impact other people. Even the word “vapor” is misleading and is largely perceived as harmless by many.

Vaping is a growing public health concern. There’s an issue concerning public understanding of the risk associated with vaping. We need to make sure everyone understands that the exhaled vapor is not just water but contains toxicants that can affect human health. We must keep people informed and aware of the risks associated with this addictive habit.

Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.

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