Vaping Is “Healthier” Than Smoking?: A Look at the Evidence
Posted on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019
You hear lots about the damage that smoking can do to your health, but many people still don’t realize how brutal it can be on your teeth, as well. It’s the number one risk factor for gum disease. Ultimately, this makes it one of the leading causes of tooth loss, as well.
For gum disease is progressive, destroying both the soft tissues of the mouth, as well as the supporting bone. As bone loss occurs, the teeth loosen in their sockets. With not enough structure to hold them steady, they’ll eventually come out or be recommended for extraction in hopes of saving other teeth.
But is vaping – often touted as safer and healthier than regular smoking – any better?
While the technology is still new enough that we’re just beginning to understand its effects on the human body, so far, the evidence is enough to give one pause.
Consider, for instance, the effects of common ingredients in the e-liquid or “juice” that’s heated in the devices:
Like cigarettes, the aerosol first contacts the oral cavity when at its hottest. Studies have shown e-liquids to contain such toxins as diethylene glycol, which is also used in antifreeze, lead, and chromium, among others. Studies also have shown the menthol additive in e-cigarette liquids have a negative effect, as conventional cigarettes do, on the epithelial cells as well as the fibroblasts within the periodontal ligament.
In addition to that tissue damage, a number of other dental problems have been associated with vaping. These include burns and ulcerations in the mouth, stomitis (inflammation of the lips and soft oral tissues), and chronic dry mouth – a condition which also raises the risk of caries (tooth decay) and gum disease.
Our study strongly suggests that electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear to the public. Our in vitro experiments employing two brands of e-cigs show that at biologically relevant doses, vapourised e-cig liquids induce increased DNA strand breaks and cell death, and decreased clonogenic survival in both normal epithelial and HNSCC cell lines independently of nicotine content.
Much of the research to date has focused on the effect of vaping on the heart and lungs – research well summarized in a recent overview at Vox, which we encourage you to check out.
Of course, the chemicals add to the toxic burden on the extracellular matrix or biological terrain, as well. As the terrain becomes overstressed, with the body less able to efficiently clear toxins, cellular communication and function break down. Conditions are ripe for dysfunction and illness to arise.
If only chemicals in the juice were the only issue. There’s also the matter of heavy metals that appear to be released from the devices themselves.
One early study found that although overall exposure to heavy metal particulate was lower with e-cigs compared to conventional cigarettes, the devices themselves appeared to be the source of exposure to several highly toxic heavy metals, including nickel, chromium, and lead.
More recent research has also found both e-liquids and the devices to be a source of heavy metals. The amounts varied greatly.
Across all analyzed brands, mean (SD) concentrations ranged from 4.89 (0.893) to 1970 (1540) μg/L for lead, 53.9 (6.95) to 2110 (5220) μg/L for chromium and 58.7 (22.4) to 22,600 (24,400) μg/L for nickel. Manganese concentrations ranged from 28.7 (9.79) to 6910.2 (12,200) μg/L. We found marked variability in nickel and chromium concentration within and between brands, which may come from heating elements.
A 2018 study in Environmental Health Perspectives reached similar conclusions.
Our findings indicate that e-cigarettes are a potential source of exposure to toxic metals (Cr, Ni, and Pb), and to metals that are toxic when inhaled (Mn and Zn). Markedly higher concentrations in the aerosol and tank samples versus the dispenser demonstrate that coil contact induced e-liquid contamination.
Clearly, in this way, vaping instead of smoking is really a matter of picking your poison.