Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect previous studies about the effects of vaping.
“They’ve been marketed as a safer alternative to smoking,” said Jeremy Drehmer, co-author of the study. “To their credit, they are safer when compared to cigarettes. But pretty much if you compare anything to cigarettes, the other thing is going to be safer.”
Researchers interviewed more than 900 parents who identified as current or former smokers.
The main finding was that “parents who were dual users of cigarettes and e-cigarettes were more likely to have strictly enforced smoke-free policies than vape-free policies for the home, suggesting that some may believe exposure to vaping inside the home is safe for children.”
In Drehmer’s view, the results of the study show that many parents believe these devices contain harmless water vapour, which isn’t the case.
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Vaping devices are relatively new. There are several different products on the market, and each contains a different set of chemicals, which is the first cause for concern.
“We’re really in an unknown kind of abyss,” Drehmer said. “Studies have found that have volatile organic compounds in them that are cancer-causing,” but we don’t necessarily know how much of these compounds exists in each product.
E-cigarettes also use aerosol — defined as particles dispersed in air or gas — which contains very small, ultra-fine particles.
“Much like tobacco smoke, these can get in and embed into the lungs, causing inflammation and all sorts of health problems,” said Drehmer.
Another reason e-cigarettes are dangerous, according to Drehmer, is due to a chemical used to produce flavour called diacetyl.
“Diacetyl has been used in things like microwave popcorn, and it’s been linked with something called popcorn lung disease.”
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Second-hand smoke can cause several health problems for children, said Drehmer. Developmental delays and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are the two biggest concerns.
“Children who grow up in homes where people are smoking around them are much more likely to take up smoking themselves,” Drehmer said.
This could be through modelling — which is when a child mimics a parent’s behaviour — or by way of exposure to nicotine, which could make children predisposed to a nicotine addiction.
Finally, the vapour from an e-cigarette — and all of its harmful chemicals — will remain on surfaces long after the vaping has stopped.
“The nicotine will coat all the surfaces in the home and car, much like cigarettes will,” said Drehmer. “Children can come by and still be exposed.”
Nicotine is a neurotoxic chemical, and it can be highly dangerous for the developing brains of children.
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The findings of this study are similar to those of previous research which suggest vaping shouldn’t necessarily be considered healthy (though they may be useful tools for those trying to quit smoking). One such study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that, while e-cigarettes are likely to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, they may come with their own set of health risks.
“E-cigarettes are not totally safe as they may cause some negative health effects, but they are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes,” said Maciej Gonievicz, a member of the NAS committee which conducted the study.
Researchers were able to identify the short-term impacts e-cigarettes could have on smoker’s health. There is substantial evidence that e-cigarette use results in symptoms of dependence, and moderate evidence that they exacerbate asthma, and increase coughing and wheezing in adolescents.
More research is required to determine the long-term impacts e-cigarettes could have on user health.
The big takeaway, Gonievicz says, is just how much e-cigarettes affect youth and young adults.
“We found strong evidence that those kids who use electronic cigarettes are more likely to experiment with tobacco cigarettes in the future,” Gonievicz reveals. “The relationship is just correlation. We did not make any conclusion that electronic cigarettes cause smoking, but that they are at risk, meaning that those children today who experiment with electronic cigarettes or use them regularly are more likely to start smoking in the future.”
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This information has caused Health Canada to advocate for a ban on vaping in public places.
“I think the thing is when people hear the word vapour, they’re thinking safe, and vapour doesn’t necessarily mean safe,” said Drehmer.
Instead, the exact same rules should be applied to vaping that are applied to smoking, he says.
“Avoid smoking in the home or car, even when kids are not present. Rather than vaping indoors, parents should consider using FDA-approved cessation medications instead, such as nicotine patch and gum, that do not expose children to toxic e-cigarette aerosol.”
— with files from Leslie Young
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