For decades now, the health risks associated with cigarette smoking have been well known. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than eight million people a year. This includes approximately 1.2 million deaths from exposure to second-hand smoke.
The rise in electronic cigarette use, or vaping, over the last few years seemed to be a welcome and healthier alternative to cigarette smoking, especially for those trying to stop smoking.
Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7 000 chemicals, many of which are toxic. While it is unknown just how many chemicals e-cigarettes contain, these devices still contain nicotine, a toxic substance that raises your blood pressure, spikes your adrenaline, and can increase your heart rate and the likelihood of a heart attack.
More alarming is the fact that e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes contain nicotine, which research suggests may be as addictive as heroin and cocaine.
Most commonly referred to as e-cigarettes or vapes, these devices have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid. Some look similar to regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, while others resemble pens or USB sticks.
Vapes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavourings, and other chemicals. Users inhale this aerosol into their lungs, and bystanders can also breathe it in when it is exhaled into the air.
While the short and long-term effects of vaping are largely unknown, some reports suggest that vaping may be as harmful as cigarette smoking. Studies have shown that vaping has been found to cause similar effects as smoking on lung function and cardiovascular function.
What has been brought into the spotlight of late is the fact that many people who would not otherwise have taken up smoking cigarettes are taking up vaping, a trend that is especially concerning amongst the youth.
Nicotine exposure can harm adolescent and young adult brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s. E-cigarette aerosol can contain chemicals that are harmful to the lungs.
Some research suggests that vaping could expose users to as many as 2 000 chemicals.
With the rise in vaping in South Africa, local legislation is being tabled to deter people, especially children and youth, from smoking and to update the rules developed three decades ago, which will see the regulations affecting traditional tobacco products extend to vapes and e-cigarettes too.
Preliminary findings of a recent pilot study found that more than a quarter of Grade 12 pupils at wealthier South African high schools are vaping, with almost a quarter of those reporting that they cannot get through the school day without using a vaping device.
Vaping also poses significant risks to pregnant women who use it, as it can damage the growing foetus.
While smokers have long been rated as higher risk when it comes to health and life insurance, people who vape are now also considered candidates with a higher risk, as they are more likely to be subjected to increased medical costs throughout their lifespan.
At Professional Provident Society (PPS), a member is regarded as a smoker if any nicotine delivery device has been used within the past 12 months, regardless of the frequency of use. This includes e-cigarettes, vaping devices, hookah pipes, and cigars.
These members will pay premium rates according to their smoking status, which will be in line with the underwritten risk. Should a member have stopped smoking for a minimum of 12 months, they must inform their insurance provider as they may qualify for a lower premium.
The exact long-term lung effects of vaping will take decades to develop. Based on our experience with cigarettes, similar adverse health effects, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and cancer, can be expected.
With all this information doing the rounds, the bottom line is that the safest option is to avoid both vaping and smoking altogether, which benefits your health and your wallet too! Written by Motshabi Nomvethe, Head of Technical Marketing at the Professional Provident Society
Written by: Lindiwe Mabena