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Smoking e-cigarettes or vapes (otherwise known as vaping) is trendy as of late. In 2020, about 10.4 million people aged 12 or older reported vaping in the past 30 days. A vape is a tobacco-free alternative that tends to have a more pleasant odor than a cigarette, but is it really any better for your health

This article will explain what is known about the health risks of both methods and the role nicotine plays in other addictions that may require clinical treatment.

What Is in a Cigarette? 

The main ingredient in a cigarette is tobacco. Nicotine is the compound responsible for tobacco’s addictiveness. The tobacco plant is indigenous to North and South America, with its use reaching back to the first century B.C. with the Mayans of Central America. Although used for thousands of years in ceremonies and in traditional medicine, tobacco, as it is produced and consumed today, has been shown to be harmful to multiple organ systems. 

Short-Term Health Risks

As of 2020, around 41.4 million people in the U.S. were exposed to the harms of smoking cigarettes. As a pleasure-inducing stimulant, a cigarette can increase your attention and help you hold information in your working memory for the short term. 

These benefits dissipate quickly, however, causing you to want to smoke more. Withdrawal symptoms can be intolerable for some people, kicking in within a few hours after the last smoke. Individuals may experience:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances

Long-Term Health Risks

Virtually every organ system can be harmed by smoking. In just one cigarette, nicotine is accompanied by thousands of other toxic chemicals and additives. The process of combustion also produces tar that gets stuck in the lungs. With continued use, smokers have a five to 10-fold increase in their risk of lung cancer and will likely have a shorter life expectancy compared to non-smokers. 

Other dangers include:

  • Heart disease
  • Various cancers
  • Worsened asthma 
  • Heart attack and stroke
  • Impaired immune function
  • Chronic bronchitis and emphysema
  • Rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

How Is Vaping Different? 

Vapes are different from cigarettes in that electricity heats a liquid containing nicotine, flavor, and other chemicals to produce vapor as opposed to smoke. They do not contain tobacco, nor do they produce the same byproducts from combustion, such as tar. For these reasons, some people believe that it is safer than cigarettes. Others say that it can help with the cessation of smoking.

Although it is probable that vapes are safer than cigarettes, this is still an area of debate and uncertainty. It’s also important to note that “safer” does not mean that vapes are hazard-free. 

The Types & Magnitude of Risks

Overall, research on both the short and long-term dangers of vaping is scant. These products haven’t been around long enough. However, what is known is that it doesn’t matter which method you use; nicotine can still lead to addiction and cognitive problems. 

In addition, toxicants, carcinogens, and metal particles have been found in the liquid and aerosols produced by vaping. Some research has found an association between inhaled vapor and impaired lung function, as well as irritation of the throat. Moreover, thousands of cases of serious lung illnesses and some deaths associated with vaping are being investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In cases like this, it may be best to apply the precautionary principle.

What’s the Connection Between Nicotine & Substance Abuse?

There is a clear pattern between nicotine use and substance use disorders (SUDs). 

Studies show “That all types of substance dependence were associated with dependence on nicotine.” It may come as no surprise then that individuals with a SUD tend to smoke at a much higher rate than those without. 

Smoking is also very common among clients in addiction treatment reaching between 65 to 85%. Although smoking is allowed in some facilities to ease withdrawal symptoms, smoking has also been found to increase the likelihood of relapse. 

Nicotine Use May Lead to Other SUDs

Nicotine has a powerful effect on the way the brain responds to future drug use. One report shows that nicotine may work by priming the brain to enhance the effects of drugs like cocaine. In other words, “If a person who smokes cigarettes tries cocaine, their brains may have been changed by nicotine to make it more likely that they will become addicted to cocaine.” 

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, cigarettes are detrimental to your health, and vaping may not be much better. The uncertainty around vaping is a major concern; it could damage your tissues and organs without you realizing it. Either way, nicotine is highly addictive in all its forms and may lead to other substance use disorders. Getting treatment for nicotine addiction may be the best decision you can make to avoid the known and unknown dangers.

Vaping has become a trendy way to consume nicotine. Some think that it is healthier than smoking cigarettes. However, this hasn’t been proven, and there are some reasons to be concerned with the safety profile of electronic cigarettes. West Coast Recovery Centers is an outpatient treatment program for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders in Oceanside, CA. Our program is licensed by California state and nationally accredited by the Joint Commission. We offer clients multiple pathways to recovery with both evidence-based and holistic modalities. Our main goal is to help our clients recover from addiction by getting to the root of the problem, often unresolved trauma or a mental health condition. Clients are often addicted to nicotine as well, a significant risk factor for relapse. If you struggle to get sober, please call us for help at (760) 492-6509.

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