Why vaping is not a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center

LISTEN: Dr. Giurintano discusses the health implications of vaping in the Medical Intel podcast. (Jonathan Giurintano, MD, Head and Neck Cancer Surgeon)

Vaping or e-cigarette usage has grown in popularity, and while it is often considered safer than smoking, it can cause serious health issues.

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device, according to the Center on Addiction. Vaping is done through devices such as the Juul and Cig-A-Likes and contains nicotine, just like cigarettes.

There is a misconception that vaping is better for people than smoking, and the consequences are not nearly as severe, said Dr. Jonathan Giurintano, a head and neck cancer surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

“Many people see this as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. Among a lot of vape users, the common phrase you’ll hear is, ‘Oh it’s just water vapor, it’s safe.’ Which we are finding to be untrue,” Dr. Giurintano said.

In addition to lung damage associated with vaping, there can also be an impact on dental health.

Dr. Giurintano said the most common dental health implications associated with vaping are irritation of the oral mucosa and higher rates of overgrowth of a fungus called Candida albicans. The overgrowth of this fungus can result in oral thrush, an infection in the mouth that requires treatment with anti-fungal medication.

Many of the flavored liquids used in vaping were developed for the food industry. And with vaping, those flavored liquids that evaporate contain nicotine. The side effects of nicotine are known, but there is less clarity about what happens when you vape the substances, Dr. Giurintano said, adding that more harmful or carcinogenic molecules can be released.

“The long term effects of taking these substances that are typically meant for oral consumption and converting them into a vaporized form that is then inhaled into the oral cavity and into the lungs is largely unknown at this point,” he said.

A recent Food and Drug Administration study demonstrated the prevalence of vaping. It showed that over the past year, vaping among high schoolers has increased by 80 percent: “1 in 5 high schoolers has vaped and this is just a really, really shocking number,” Dr. Giurintano said.

The study elicited concern from Dr. Giurintano, who said that often patients who vape don’t limit their use of nicotine to just vaping — they go on to use tobacco cigarettes or other products to get nicotine.

“And any potential benefit that one might have seen from vaping rather than smoking quickly disappears when you’re both vaping and smoking cigarettes in order to get the nicotine effect,” he said.

The America Head and Neck Society recently issued a statement that it does not endorse use of e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to cigarettes. The risks and benefits of vaping are still under investigation, Dr. Giurintano added: “We are not sure at this point what the 20-30 year health implications are,” he said.

MedStar Washington Hospital Center offers smoking cessation programs to help patients quit vaping and smoking cigarettes. The programs provide counseling, support and the encouragement needed to quit, Dr. Giurintano said. Please speak to your doctor for more information on enrolling in these programs. Read more about the risks of vaping and listen to a podcast with Dr. Giurintano here.

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