What COPD Patients Should Know About Vaping and E-Cigarettes
If you want to lead a healthier life, you need to be more acutely aware of how your lifestyle choices — and the lifestyle choices of others — affect your long-term well-being. For example, you need to research nutrition in order to make sure that your diet is helping you progress towards your health goals, rather than pushing you farther away from them. But nobody ever said this would be easy. With all the information (and misinformation) that’s out there, it can be pretty overwhelming trying to create a health plan and carry it out.
One thing that can really muddle up this issue and make it even more challenging is being diagnosed with a respiratory ailment like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While it may seem like this will only have an effect on your lungs, your respiratory health actually has a significant impact on your systemic health. For example, in one of our more recent posts, we took a look at how COPD can cause heart problems and swelling in the hands and feet.
A topic that’s hotly debated these days is how vaping and e-cigarettes should be viewed as a COPD patient. Some people believe that vaping is an effective tool to help smokers wean off their bad habit to something that’s “less dangerous” and “less addictive.” However, on the other side, people believe it’s being used to get younger generations involved in smoking and other drugs. No matter where you stand on vaping, this post aims to clarify misconceptions about vaping and e-cigarettes. We’ll also show you why it’s a good idea to reconsider vaping as a COPD patient or someone who’s at risk of contracting COPD.
What are Vape Pens and E-Cigarettes?
The concept of “vaping” has not been around very long. In fact, the first commercially successful e-cigarette was created in 2003, but it wasn’t introduced to the United States until 2006. And despite the fact that the vaping industry was valued at around $14.05 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to $29.39 billion in 2022, there still seems to be a lot of confusion about what vaping actually is.
Like most products, e-cigarettes have evolved a lot since they were first introduced; but the basic principles remain the same: a battery-powered heating device is activated when the user inhales. This, in turn, vaporizes the e-liquid which is inhaled as an aerosol which is a suspension of fine solid particles and liquid droplets. The smoke that comes from a cigarette is also considered an “aerosol” because it contains water droplets, but vaping advocates claim that cigarettes are far more dangerous because they release more HPHCs due to their high combustion temperature.
Technically speaking, e-cigarettes and vape pens are essentially the same thing. The main difference is that e-cigarettes are designed to look like real cigarettes and once you use them up, they are disposed of. On the contrary, vape pens are much more popular and they can be recharged and refilled rather than being disposed of. We’re going to take a look at some of the risks associated with vaping, as well as some of the perceived benefits so that COPD patients can make more educated decisions about their lung health.
What are the Risks Associated with Vaping?
Chemicals Found in “Vape Juice”
Just like cigarettes, vape juice contains a whole host of chemicals that will harm your long-term health. We know that cigarettes have around 7,000 different toxic chemicals but when it comes to e-cigarettes, the facts are less clear. Since vape juice is being produced by thousands of companies across the country, it’s difficult to track everything that’s being put into them. According to the American Lung Association, however, these are some of the most dangerous components:
- Carcinogens - including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like Benzene
- Diethylene glycol
- Diacetyl - known to cause bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn lung)
- Acrolein - commonly used as a herbicide
- Propylene glycol - used to make paint solvent and antifreeze
An Argument From Ignorance
There’s a common logical fallacy that vaping companies often use to prove the safety of their products. This fallacy is called “an argument from ignorance.” Basically what this comes down to is using a lack of evidence in order to prove that something is true. Most people realize that this is not a valid way to argue a point, but it’s easy to get past someone if they aren’t actively looking out for it.
Vaping companies will claim that their products are safer than cigarettes because there is no evidence that they cause COPD or lung cancer. The problem with this argument, however, is that vaping has not been researched long enough for us to know exactly how it contributes to chronic lung conditions. COPD, in particular, takes several decades to develop and severe symptoms don’t usually manifest until later in life.
Another thing that needs to be researched is the effects of vaping on systemic health. We know that cigarette smoking damages your heart and blood vessels, and it’s a risk factor for many chronic systemic diseases, but vaping hasn’t been researched enough to determine if there is a link. Vaping advocates will claim that, since there are no immediate systemic effects, you have nothing to worry about. Be sure to look out for these logical fallacies next time you’re offered an e-cigarette.
It’s hard not to draw connections between what is going on now with vaping and what happened in the 1930s to 1950s with cigarettes. During those times, cigarettes were often advertised as “physician approved” just because they irritated the throat less than other cigarettes. These claims were based on nothing more than a couple of surveys and they were designed to profit off the general public’s lack of understanding concerning the dangers of cigarette smoking.
Vaping is Addictive
No matter how you slice it, nicotine is an addictive chemical regardless of how it’s consumed. Cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and e-cigarettes all contain high amounts of nicotine. This chemical is referred to as a “neurotoxin” because it alters the structure and function of the nervous system. Nicotine activates nicotinic receptors in the brain which are intended for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, responsible for cognitive processing, memory, and attention.
There are nicotinic receptors in every part of the brain, so this is why nicotine has such a wide array of effects. And because the vapor is inhaled to the lungs, the effects are nearly instantaneous. One of the most well-known and concerning parts of the brain that nicotine affects is the nucleus accumbens which is often referred to as the “addiction hub” of the brain. Once nicotine enters this area of the brain, it releases dopamine, the neurochemical that’s responsible for feelings of reward.
E-Cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI)
In 2019, we saw our first major outbreak of lung illness due to vaping. This new lung condition was dubbed “E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) by the CDC, and it’s currently being heavily researched. EVALI caused sudden and severe respiratory symptoms in otherwise healthy people, but researchers have determined that the one thing these cases had in common was the use of vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Another problem safety concern associated with e-cigarettes is the battery. While traditional cigarettes can cause fires, e-cigarette batteries have caused harm to the user by exploding or causing severe burns. According to VapeDanger.com, the batteries that are used in e-cigs are not tested well enough to ensure their safety and they’re typically designed for things like power tools rather than e-cigarettes.
Vaping as a “Gateway” Drug
One of the downsides that’s often under-discussed when it comes to vaping is its potential to be used as a “gateway drug.” A gateway drug is a drug that may not be extremely harmful in and of itself, but it can lead to someone trying other drugs that are far more dangerous. For example, even though vape juice contains less nicotine than cigarettes, it could make it either for someone to get hooked on traditional cigarettes.
Are There Any Benefits of Vaping?
While there are some perceived benefits to vaping like reducing addiction to cigarettes or saving money, you’ll be much better off if you completely eliminate nicotine use in your life. Since we don’t know the long-term effects of vaping, you’re basically just flipping a coin when it comes to your health. It’s best to assume that the only things you should be inhaling into your lungs are fresh air or any medication that your doctor has prescribed you for COPD treatment such as corticosteroids, bronchodilators, or other medication administered through an inhaler or nebulizer. Even then, these drugs should only be used as prescribed by your doctor.
How Should COPD Patients React to Vaping?
Find other Methods to Quit Smoking
Possibly the most common use for e-cigarettes is as a tool for smoking cessation. Proponents of vaping will say that vaping can act like a nicotine patch or other types of nicotine replacement therapy in order to wean people off of cigarettes. Unfortunately, studies have shown that using e-cigarettes in this way is no more or less effective than other smoking cessation tools. What’s more, there’s a chance that you could become addicted to both cigarettes and e-cigarettes. According to the Truth Initiative, 54.6% of e-cigarette users in 2016 also smoked cigarettes. This would suggest that many people are using vaping as a supplement rather than a replacement for traditional smoking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains that the most effective cessation tools include counseling, medications, or some combination of the two. There are several different types of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that can be used to quit smoking, but the most popular include one-on-one counseling and group therapy. FDA-approved smoking cessation medication includes Chantix (varenicline tartrate) and Zyban (buproprion hydrochloride). Before taking these medications, however, you should speak with your doctor to determine if they’re right for you.
Above all, it’s important to try these other methods of smoking cessation before resorting to vaping. While e-cigarettes may be the most accessible option for many people, they are not proven to be effective at helping you kick the habit, and more importantly, we don’t yet know the long-term effects of vaping on the body. If you have COPD or you’re currently at risk of COPD, you should invest time in behavioral therapy, nicotine replacement therapy, or one of the FDA-approved medications before resorting to vaping.
Focus on your COPD Treatment Plan
If you have COPD, you should be focusing on your treatment plan above all else. This includes things like smoking cessation, supplemental oxygen therapy, a refined diet, and pulmonary rehabilitation. If you’ve smoked for years or decades, you may find it tempting to invest in vaping because it’s often advertised as a “healthier alternative” to smoking. But in reality, vaping will put you at a higher risk of contracting pneumonia, one of the primary causes of COPD exacerbations.
If you spend your time and energy focusing on making positive lifestyle changes, you’re likely to see your nicotine dependency dissipate over time. According to Addictions and Recovery, nicotine stays in the body for about 72 hours and nicotine withdrawal is worst 2 to 3 days after quitting. However, it takes around 3 months for your brain chemistry to return back to normal after smoking. Try to focus on your COPD treatment for this duration of time and you’ll find that it becomes much easier to avoid nicotine products.
Get Outside and Exercise
If you’re still struggling with nicotine withdrawal, consider exercising more frequently. According to Medical News Today, exercise is one of the best-known ways to combat nicotine cravings, and the best part is that it doesn’t require you to commit to a high-intensity exercise routine. Even 10 minutes each day of moderate exercise can significantly reduce the chance that you’ll fall back on your smoking cessation plan.
Understand the Financial Burden of Vaping
One of the claims you’ll hear thrown around is that vaping is “95 percent healthier and 40 percent cheaper than smoking.” While this is certainly an interesting statement, it’s not based in reality. First and foremost, very little research has been done on vaping especially when it comes to the long-term effects on the lungs. So, it’s very difficult to prove or disprove that vaping is “95 percent safer.”
Secondly, the cost of smoking or vaping varies greatly. Some people smoke several packs of cigarettes a day while others smoke only once or twice a week. When they say that vaping is “40 percent cheaper,” they are usually comparing the lower estimates of vaping with the upper estimates of smoking. Be careful when you hear claims like this, especially if they’re coming from vaping companies.
Vaping is a trend that’s been increasing in popularity for years. Although it’s mainly used by young adults, many older adults and seniors are embracing it as a “healthier alternative” or “cessation tool” for traditional cigarettes. If you suffer from COPD or another chronic respiratory disease, you should be wary of these claims and focus on healthy lifestyle choices that are backed by many decades of research rather than several years of research.
Here at LPT Medical, we only sell products that are medically proven to help patients with COPD. Most people with COPD will be prescribed supplemental oxygen and we are happy to provide lightweight and durable portable oxygen concentrators that can keep you moving despite your respiratory condition. Whether you’re looking for the Caire FreeStyle Comfort, Inogen One G5, Respironics SImplyGo, or any other affordable portable oxygen device, we are here to help.