When vaping first came on the scene in China and in Europe in 2003, it was touted as a replacement that was 95 percent better for you than cigarette smoking. While the trend did not start to take hold in the United States until 2007, largely due to regulation issues, the users of vapes have grown significantly.
As the number of users have grown, so have concerns over whether vaping is really better for you at all. The answers fall generally into two camps: those who say vaping is not harmful at all, and those who say it is as harmful or more so than cigarette smoking. As with most extremes, the true answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
To understand why this is, it is important to understand the science behind vaping. Essentially e-liquids, the concentrate used to make the vapor in a vape device, is made up of four ingredients: propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavorings, and nicotine.
This concentrate is turned into vapor using an electronic device. These devices vary from simple e-cigarettes to Advanced Personal Vaporizers (APV) devices to mods for vapes, the most personalized and expensive, yet also most effective personal vaporizers.
These devices all convert the concentrate into vapor that can be inhaled. Here is the science behind the ingredients found in most e-liquids.
The chemical propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid substance that absorbs water and is used to make polyester compounds, and as a base for deicing solutions. It is also is used by chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries as antifreeze to prevent contact with food in case of leakage. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified propylene glycol as an additive that is “generally recognized as safe” for use in food.
Propylene Glycol is used in food and cosmetics, but its primary role in e-liquids is that it carries flavors well and serves as the transport for them. This substance does not accumulate in your body over time, and most of it is eliminated from your system within hours.
Often this compound is confused with ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in automotive antifreeze, which is toxic to both humans and animals. While small amounts of this toxin are sometimes found in cheaper mass market e-liquids, it is not common.
Vegetable glycerin is a clear, odorless liquid produced from plant oils, typically palm, soy, or coconut oil. Much of the glycerin used in e-liquids is organic. Technically speaking, vegetable glycerin is classified as a sugar alcohol, but it is much more similar to sugars than it is to alcohol. It is absorbed in the small intestine before passing into the large intestine where it would be fermented by bacteria.
The main role of vegetable glycerin in vaping is to create vapor. It has no known cancer promoting, DNA damaging, or birth defect causing ingredients or effects.
This means that the two major ingredients in e-liquids or vapors contain few if any toxins.
The flavoring found in e-liquids has several sources. Most is food-grade and can be natural or artificial. The stronger the flavoring, the less nicotine the user usually needs or desires.
Flavors vary from fruit or food flavors to smoke-like or plant-based flavors and are really a matter of personal taste. The flavors that can be created are really only limited by the imagination of the person creating the e-liquids. In fact, many manufacturers offer custom liquids and unusual flavors to tantalize customers into trying something new.
Typically, the one thing that affects the way the e-liquid tastes is the amount of nicotine it contains (more on that in a moment). As users move from cheaper mass market vapes to mods, they get more flavor and vapor from their device, and need less nicotine to be satisfied.
This brings us to the final ingredient in e-liquids: nicotine. Not all e-liquids contain nicotine, but most contain at least small amounts.
Our bodies tend to adjust to the amount of nicotine we take in, and that becomes normal. So if you are considering vaping, moving to a higher nicotine content liquid in hopes that it will help you vape less is a faulty strategy. Your body will just normalize to needing that level instead.
The better path is to move to liquids that contain less nicotine, and step down instead of up, adjusting your body to smaller amounts rather than larger ones.
No matter what the level, nicotine is a dangerous and addictive substance, and anything, including vaping, that helps you reduce your amount of nicotine intake will benefit your health in the long run.
The answer to whether or not vaping is good for you, bad for you, or somewhere in the middle lies in science, and as time goes along both technology and new e-liquid recipes will likely make it safer than it is now. How you use your vape, and the level of nicotine you choose will largely determine the effect vaping has on your health. Knowing the science behind it will help you make better decisions.
Do you vape? If so, what are some of your favorite brands and flavors of e-juice?