Is vaping less harmful than smoking? Think again

Is vaping less harmful than smoking? Think again

UAE doctors warn of lung injury, poor brain development and other major side effects

Vaping is the new smoking. Worse, vape users think it’s less harmful than smoking. It’s clean nicotine, they say. That’s not exactly true, but that’s the general feeling among vapers in the UAE, according to doctors. This has resulted in the proliferation of smokers.

Dr. Saheer Sainalabdeen has seen an annual growth in the number of vapers among his patients in Dubai. The pulmonologist at the Medeor Hospital feels that the general misconception of safety is driving up the number of vapers.

The growth of vaping has been staggering. In 2021, 55 million people vaped worldwide, while it has crossed 82 million now. Although there’s not enough data on vaping in the UAE, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health last year found that about a quarter of college students used an e-cigarette in June. The numbers continue to climb as vaping has become cool. So cool that even schoolchildren are said to be among the new vapers.

Vaping a threat to teenagers’ health

Teenage vaping is a big worry, Dr Sainalabdeen says, adding that nicotine inhalation can lead to stunted development.

“Human brain continues to develop until the age of 25. Nicotine from vaping can impact the brain, leading to learning issues, memory loss, seizures and mental health problems,” he adds.

This runs counter to the vapers’ belief that e-cigarettes are less dangerous. “Some of my patients who vape tell me that vaping is harmless. Others say it’s less harmful. Another group of people says they vape to quit smoking, but they continue to remain vapers,” Dr Sainalabdeen says.

Vaping helped me quit smoking: Dubai expat

The Dubai expat insists there hasn’t been much evidence to say it’s [vaping] harmful.

“I know it has a few chemicals, a bit of nicotine, but in my eyes, it’s a lot better than smoking cigarettes,” she says.

“I started vaping around December. There are different flavours when you opt for vaping, and that was appealing to me. I eventually cut down on cigarettes and quit smoking them once I took up vaping,” the operations specialist at an education firm says. “I don’t feel the need to quit vaping. I am not harming anybody, and I don’t smoke as much.”

The 39-year-old feels that the chemicals in cigarettes are more harmful and it’s smelly. “I always smelled of smoke too. I had to always go outside a building or the balcony to smoke a cigarette, but with vaping, you can do it anywhere. I can sit at home or be with friends and vape without stepping out anywhere,” she says, adding that it hasn’t impacted her health.

“I love cycling long distances. When I used to smoke, I found that I couldn’t ride for long, and I had a chesty cough. I found it difficult to breathe. With vaping, I can cycle for hours, and I even take a break to vape,” Mona says.

Origins of vaping

A vape or an e-cigarette is used for vaping. Vaping devices have several names: e-cigarettes, e-hookahs, mods, vape pens, vapes, tank systems, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). These electronic devices heat a nicotine-laden liquid to produce vapour inhaled by the user. So the term vaping comes from vapour.

Although the electronic cigarette patent was granted to Joseph Robinso in 1930, it was never commercialised. The first commercially successful electronic cigarette took shape only in 2003 when Beijing pharmacist Hon Lik developed a vaping device after his father, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer.

Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

How to quit vaping

Quitting vaping is similar to quitting smoking. It’s a process that will take time. There are no shortcuts. Here are some suggestions from two doctors that could help kick the habit.

Dr Saheer Sainalabdeen’s advice:

Break the vaping routine with the following steps. When you feel like vaping, do one of the following, which will help you avoid it.

  1. Find a distraction.
  2. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly
  3. Go for a walk
  4. Talk to a friend or a relative
  5. Engage in any activity, like playing a game on the phone

Inhaling any tobacco product can’t be a good thing, doctors say. Vaping may eliminate the dangerous carbon monoxide of smoking, but more dangers lurk in the vaping juice.

To quote Dr Sainalabdeen, the unknowns of vaping pose the biggest danger.

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