The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced earlier this month that cigarette smoking rates are at a historic low of 17 percent. Most would see this as a cause for celebration. Cigarettes are not only detrimental to the health of the people who smoke them, but also to the health of everyone around them forced to inhale the smoke. This would seem to be a huge victory for public health, but a tobacco alternative sweeping the nation might put a damper on the festivities.
E-cigarettes have grown increasingly popular over the past few years, claiming that they are safer than cigarettes. Many people have stopped smoking cigarettes altogether, replacing them with e-cigarettes in the hopes of avoiding some of smoking’s worst side effects. More than half of all students over the age of 18 have admitted to using e-cigarettes and 15 percent of non-smokers have also reported using e-cigarettes or vaping according to the Watchdog Report, signaling a massive shift in the tobacco industry.
However, the claim that e-cigarettes are safer has been made from the product’s inception without any actual proof. Recent studies published by the Journal Sentinel questions its validity entirely. “Diacetyl” and “pentanedione” are two of the most common chemical flavorings used in vaping products like e-cigarettes. These chemicals have been proven to cause lung damage and can outright kill. These flavorings are also used to flavor cigarettes and are some of the most damaging chemicals used in their production.
Flavoring agents have been an important part of the tobacco industry for decades. Market research has long shown that distinct flavors can be used to market to specific populations. Some of the flavors are intended to target children. Alarmingly, a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that ninth-graders that had tried vaping were four times more likely to try traditional tobacco products like cigarettes.
So while cigarette usage is down, the as of yet unknown dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes have the potential to catastrophically impact public health as long as they are still portrayed as a harmless alternative to cigarettes. In the end, someone vaping is still breathing in chemicals designed to be addictive and flavorful, and those chemicals will never be quite as good for the body as clean air. Furthermore, if vaping causes people to think of smoking as harmless, it may only be a matter of time before dangerous tobacco usage is on the rise once again.