Tobacco may not seem as popular as it once was, but the World Health Organization notes that 1.3 billion individuals across the globe can be characterized as tobacco users. That means roughly 17 per cent of the global population uses tobacco.
If it seems as though fewer people are smoking cigarettes, that’s not an incorrect interpretation. According to the Tobacco Atlas, the number of cigarettes smoked worldwide has been decreasing slowly since sales peaked in 2012; however, cigarettes are not the only tobacco product on the market. The decline in cigarette sales does not necessarily mean consumers are avoiding tobacco altogether.
In fact, some may simply be vaping, which is the term used to describe the usage of e-cigarettes. Though vaping is sometimes described as a safe alternative to cigarettes, such a characterization could be somewhat misleading, as various public health agencies caution against the use of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. A greater understanding of vaping, including its potential connection to cancer, could help consumers make more informed decisions.
What is vaping? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarettes produce an aerosol that usually contains flavoured nicotine, which is the addictive ingredient in cigarettes and other popular tobacco products. Additional chemicals are employed to make the aerosol, which e-cigarette users inhale into their lungs. It’s important to note that even the term “vaping” might be misleading. The American Cancer Society notes that “vaping” gives the impression that e-cigarettes produce a vapour that is then inhaled; however, vaping produces an aerosol that contains tiny particles. That aerosol is not the same thing as a vapour.
Does vaping produce a secondhand effect? Most cigarette smokers are familiar with the dangers of secondhand smoke. That danger is so significant that it’s now illegal to smoke indoors in many areas of the world. The CDC reports that vaping poses a similar threat, as bystanders near someone who is vaping can breathe in the aerosol when e-cigarette users exhale.
Is vaping linked to cancer? The ACS notes that the chemicals in the aerosol produced when smoking e-cigarettes may contain formaldehyde, a cancer-causing substance that can form if the e-liquid overheats or an insufficient amount of liquid reaches the heating element. Though the CDC notes that e-cigarettes can potentially benefit smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products, the organization also emphasizes that more research is necessary before scientists can understand the long-term effects of vaping. In addition, the CDC reports that e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant adults, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
Smoking cigarettes has long been known to increase the risk for various cancers. Vaping may be a less harmful alternative to smoking for current smokers, but various public health agencies still warn that avoiding tobacco entirely is the safest option.