The Great Vape Debate

Is Vaping Safer Than Smoking?

Vaping is the hottest new vice among teens and young adults, but is it safer than smoking? This is a very difficult question to answer, especially in light of new developments. Since this article was first published, there has been a troubling number of cases of lung disease cropping up around the country. We are going to take a look at how e-cigarettes came about, the latest medical trends, and where we stand today as a new generation become tobacco users.

How Vaping Began

It seemed like a great idea. Create a product which could deliver nicotine to current smokers in a “safer” way to help them quit tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes were invented in 2003 in Beijing, China, by inventor, pharmacist and smoker, Hon Lik. He had watched his father die of lung cancer and wanted to help both himself and others avoid a similar fate. In 2007, e-cigarettes hit the US market. They were originally marketed as an independent smoking-cessation alternative, but soon large tobacco holders like Reynolds and Altria (makers of the current big vape hit, JUUL, and also owners of Philip Morris USA) introduced their own products, and threw large dollars at marketing campaigns which never mentioned smoking cessation, but positioned their products as glamorous accessories.

An Alternative to Standing Out in the Cold

It didn’t take long before smokers and non-smokers alike had taken up vaping. It was the answer for smokers who needed to satisfy their nicotine cravings in an ever-increasing non-smoking world, where regular combustible cigarettes were shunned and banned in public spaces everywhere. Rather than having to go outside to smoke, they could pull out an e-cigarette and when challenged in public gathering places, their answer was usually – “Calm down, it’s just water vapor!” But is it really just water vapor?

What’s in Vape Juice?

The nicotine delivered in the aerosol of a vaping device is highly addictive, and the aerosol used to deliver nicotine to a user’s lungs can contain heavy metals such as lead, nickel, and tin. It usually also contains known cancer-causing chemicals, ultra-fine particles, and flavored e-juice may contain a chemical called diacetyl which has been linked to a serious lung disease. While the CDC does make the claim vaping is less harmful than smoking combustible cigarettes, it has found most people who do use them are “dual” users, both vaping and smoking – which pretty much defeats the original purpose.

Is Vaping Safer If You Are Pregnant and Trying to Quit Smoking?

The short answer is NO. Any tobacco use during pregnancy could lead to fetal harm. According to the American Pregnancy Association, “nicotine is an addictive substance that is toxic to reproduction and interferes with fetal brain development. It may also adversely affect fetal lung development and increase the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).” The best course of action if you are pregnant to quit all tobacco use completely. You and your baby will be much healthier for it.

Those Kid-Friendly Flavors

Bubblegum, popcorn, mint, strawberry, and many more flavors which would appeal to teens and pre-teens could be found at just about every vape or convenience store from 2011 until 2018. Maker JUUL has come out and said the flavors were introduced to appeal to smokers, to entice them to quit regular cigarettes and move to vaping exclusively. But studies have shown mostly what those flavors did was entice middle schoolers and high school students to try vaping, and then become addicted to nicotine. It’s not much of a mental stretch to imagine tobacco companies were looking to create a whole new segment of life-long customers in a US market which had become incredibly anti-smoking. JUUL has since stopped selling fruit and candy-flavored pods in retail outlets, restricting those places to selling Menthol, Mint, and Tobacco flavored pods only, but still offer the other flavors on their website, which it claims is heavily vetted to ensure buyers are over 18.

In a survey conducted by the CDC in 2018, they found 3.18 MILLION middle and high schoolers had used a vaping device in the past 30 days. These are not current cigarette smokers, and most had not tried any other tobacco product in the past. Although sales are restricted to those 18 and over, and sale of fruit and candy-flavored e-juice has now been banned by the FDA, the use of these devices is seemingly on the rise. They are small, easy to hide, and do not produce the telltale tobacco smell when used, so kids can hide them and their use easily. It was found many kids were even charging their devices on their school computers by way of a USB charging port (the lithium battery on an e-cigarette needs to be charged periodically to produce the aerosol).

Long-Term Effects

As with any relatively new product, the long-term effects cannot fully be predicted, although we are starting to see some adverse effects recently. Since this article was first published in January of 2019, some states have seen cases of teens, young adults, and most recently those who have been classified as “older adults” being admitted to the hospital with severe lung injuries in what doctors had described as previously healthy individuals. According to a CNN survey of state health departments, there are 120 cases of possible lung disease in fifteen states. The following states had the most reported confirmed or potential cases:

Wisconsin – 15 confirmed, 15 under investigation
Illinois – 10 confirmed, 12 under investigation
California – 19 under investigation
New York – 11 under investigation
Indiana – 6 confirmed, 3 under investigation
New Jersey – 9 identified

The frightening aspect of this development is the fact these lung injuries were initially thought to be caused by infection when first identified, which is treatable with antibiotics; however, all tests for infection came back negative. Some of the patients’ injuries are so severe they have had to spend time in the intensive care unit. After some investigation by doctors, it was discovered all these patients had vaped or “dabbed” (inhaled marijuana products) recently. An investigation is ongoing to determine if there was a common product among these individuals.

Similarly, back in April, the FDA reported 35 young adults were suffering from seizures possibly associated with vaping. Since nicotine toxicity has been known to cause seizures, especially in younger tobacco users, there is at least a clear correlation between vaping and these instances of seizure if not direct causation.  Since then, an additional 92 cases have been identified. 

It may be that vaping was adopted quickly among young users simply because of the fun flavors and the idea that it was “just water vapor” so there was very little danger involved. The fact chemicals, including nicotine, were present did not seem to pose much of a threat to those who chose to start the habit. Now there is the potential for grievous harm to come to these users of a product touted to help with smoking cessation and as a “healthier” alternative to traditional cigarette use.

While Juul has agreed to discontinue sweet-flavored pods, there is the additional threat of counterfeit e-cigarette pods coming into the country that still contain these flavorings to increase sales to young users. Further study into the specific chemicals contained in these products will hopefully identify the culprits so they can be removed and the producers of them can be held responsible.

These devices have introduced a whole new generation to nicotine, and we know there are chemicals contained in the aerosol which is not healthy for the human body and can lead to complications later in life. As has been shown with cigarettes, there is the chance of lifelong addiction for those who begin smoking in their teens as the brains of teens are still developing well into their early 20’s. It’s why alcohol sale is restricted to those 21 and over, and why the sale of tobacco products like cigarettes and smokeless tobacco is restricted to those 18 and over.

The Bottom Line

Let’s make one thing very clear. Vaping nicotine-based “e-juice” is tobacco use. The most popular vape devices in the US are manufactured and marketed by large tobacco companies. The nicotine in vape juice is derived from nicotine salts in tobacco leaves, mixed with flavorings and chemicals. These salts, when vaped, produce the nicotine punch without the lung irritation experienced by first-time smokers. They are not harmless, and they are not regulated.

The CDC has done extensive studies on vaping and e-cigarettes. Their recommendation is pretty simple – if you have never been a smoker, do NOT start vaping. Tobacco companies have found a way to create a new customer base. Kids who would have never used any tobacco products (smoking and tobacco use saw a steady decline from 2011 to 2017, cutting the number of smokers in middle and high school by more than half) are now addicted to nicotine because of vaping devices. They were sold an image, told it was safe, and basically bamboozled like the ads of old which touted cigarettes as everything from a weight-loss aid, to a pick-me-up, to a way to aid in digestion. It is certainly ironic teens who are fighting for better gun laws, and who don’t want to be controlled by corporations, are now becoming more and more addicted to an unhealthy product designed by big tobacco to hook them for life.

27 Responses to “The Great Vape Debate”

January 15, 2019 at 7:21 am, Kevin said:

Good article. What about the effects of second hand “smoke” with vaping. Sounds like maybe vaping should be banned inside as well? As a non-smoker, am I not being exposed to harmful chemicals?

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January 15, 2019 at 8:44 am, AED Superstore said:

Hi Kevin – we didn’t include the second-hand effects of vaping because there is simply not enough information yet due to the fact vape devices are fairly new to the market. Many establishments have banned vape devices as well as smoking in their facilities.

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August 21, 2019 at 7:10 am, carl said:

The National Cancer Institute found that the second hand smoke “studies” were completely false.
Thanks for whining – try again tomorrow.

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August 21, 2019 at 7:45 am, L Bowen said:

Actually, if you go to the National Cancer Institute website you will find quite a bit of information regarding the dangers of second hand smoke. Second hand smoke, per the National Cancer Institute, contains many dangerous chemicals such as (and I quote) benzene, tobacco specific nitrosamines, Benzo[a]pyrene, 1,3-butadiene (a hazardous gas), cadmium (a toxic metal), Formaldehyde, acetaldehyde.

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January 15, 2019 at 7:27 am, Harold said:

Give vaping another 10 years and they will be in the throes of lawsuits and regulations that took many decades for tobacco companies to be hurt. Vaping should have been banned immediately, but the tobacco company lobby is probably as strong as the pharaceutical companies. If states are working to legalize recreational marijuana with those health hazards, vaping is here for a long time.

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January 15, 2019 at 8:07 am, Sherry said:

I agree that there is no SAFE tobacco, however, I am grateful. After using the JUUL product for just a few months, my son has quit smoking “traditional” cigarettes all together. He was a smoker for 23 years. I hope that ceasing use of the cigarettes will add some longevity back to his young life. I also hope and pray that the long term effects of the vapes are not as deadly. He saw his boyh grandmothers dies from lung cancer related to years of smoking cigarettes.

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January 15, 2019 at 8:19 am, Bob Howard said:

This is a very interesting article, however you are missing one of the scariest aspects of vaping. It is not just nicotine that is appealing to the middle school and high school kids. Companies are selling synthetic marijuana ( spice) under the guise of CBD oil. Kids are getting addicted to these synthetic drugs with major psychological side effects. These concoctions seem to be slipping by whatever weak regulations the FDA has on companies producing vape juice. These products are being sold under names like “Green Mist, Kentucky Route, Kronic etc.”. It is certainly no coincidence that Vape shops are setting up locations right next to high schools. Many of the private schools randomly test students for THC thereby increasing the popularity of the synthetic marijuana that cannot be tested. Unless the FDA gets serious about policing these companies, there will be a whole new class of addicted youth in our future.

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January 15, 2019 at 9:28 am, Brittany said:

As someone who vapes and is now at 0mg nicotine (meaning I have NO nicotine in my ejuice) I do not agree with the statement “Vaping is tobacco use.”. Vaping has nicotine…not tobacco. It’s a totally different product. So saying vape juice IS tobacco is FALSE. For clarification the definition of tobacco: a preparation of the nicotine-rich leaves of an American plant, which are cured by a process of drying and fermentation for smoking or chewing. Vaping does have nicotine- just not tobacco. Just dropping a little knowledge on a false statement.

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January 15, 2019 at 9:46 am, AED Superstore said:

Hi Brittany,
Congratulations on getting down to 0mg nicotine! Nicotine comes exclusively from tobacco leaves, so any vaping which includes nicotine is tobacco use. There have been studies which show even juices and pods labeled 0 mg nicotine can possibly contain some nicotine. Direct from the CDC: “It is difficult for consumers to know what e-cigarette products contain. For example, some e-cigarettes marketed as containing zero percent nicotine have been found to contain nicotine.” (https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/pdfs/Electronic-Cigarettes-Infographic-508.pdf) Right now JUUL, the most popular vape device does not offer non-nicotine pods;however,we are aware there are devices which do not use juices which contain nicotine. In this instance, they are usually referred to as “inhalers” or “Personal aromatherapy inhalers” or “diffusers”. It is generally accepted among teens and young adults that “vaping” is a way to deliver nicotine to the system, and “inhaling” is using a non-nicotine diffuser.

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January 15, 2019 at 10:25 am, John said:

Boy, don’t know where to beginning. While the author had some good points, the generalities that are used in most of these articles are misleading. “Let’s make one thing very clear. Vaping is tobacco use.”…NO, it’s not! Don’t confusion the substance with the method of delivery. I do vape legal cannabis. It was a pretty easy decision, after 10-15 years of both insomnia and SF IP neuropathy and being on the highest manufactured-allowed limits of Neurontins and Lyrica with the doctors just saying “well, live with it”, I decided to change my life. After weaning myself off of Ambien and Lyrica (and realizing that the Lyrica side-effects wound up CAUSING me more pain that it helped), I went to cannabis and CBD oils. My choice was to make edibles, smoke, or vape. For quick relief, I chose to vape with a dry-herb vaporizer. It’s better than smoking with the choices I have.

“The nicotine delivered in the aerosol of a vaping device is highly addictive, and the aerosol used to deliver nicotine to a user’s lungs can contain heavy metals such as lead, nickel, and tin.” I don’t use oils for vaping (just ingesting) and I only use plain dry product in my vaping. But every author that I’ve read lumps the liquid vape units in with the non-liquid vape units giving the whole delivery system a bad name through scare tactics.

It’s not the VAPE units, it’s the Nicotine. With what has been proven about Nicotine, why is it STILL legal?!? Get rid of the Nicotine. If you get rid of the vaping, the companies will find another method of delivery…throat lozenges, soft drinks, etc… it’s not the vaping. Why do these authors constantly vilify vaping, when they all state that the danger is in the Nicotine and that Vaping is hands down better than smoking? Get rid of Tobacco products…but why go after ONE method of delivery. These companies were prohibited to use Joe Camel and other child-inducing images, why are they allowed to push candy flavor-infused nicotine to kids…but make claims that they aren’t.

When it comes to Vaping, the etiquette should still be the same, you don’t vape around others and children. When it comes to writing these articles, may I encourage the authors to do a little research. Research ALL the vaporizers out there and what they are used for…better yet go after the substances and not the method. Generally, to imply “vaporing is dangerous” is very misleading when really they should be going after the fact that these tobacco companies are finding other methods of delivery to push their products.

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January 15, 2019 at 10:49 am, AED Superstore said:

Hi John,
Hello! I’m the author. 🙂 I did a great deal of research for the article and, as someone who has a neurological condition as well, I am so glad to hear you found a way to safely administer cannabis using a vape to control your symptoms. Clearly, this article was not directed at someone in your situation. “Vaping”, in the vernacular of teens and pre-teens this article is focused on, means using a device such as a JUUL to onboard nicotine. When they are talking about using the devices to inhale essential oils or other non-nicotine based products, they call it “inhaling” or “diffusing”. If you re-read the article, you will notice it is focused on nicotine use and the methods used by big tobacco companies to increase their customer base with an addictive substance, more than the devices themselves. To your point, however, I will change the phrase to “Let’s make one thing very clear. Vaping nicotine-based products is tobacco use…” I do, however, still stick to the belief that even using non-nicotine products in a vape device could lead to nicotine use in the future and so would discourage anyone who has never smoked, or does not need to use a vape for medical reasons to avoid starting. Thank you for taking the time to comment. – Eileen

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August 21, 2019 at 7:14 am, carl said:

Yeah – while you’re at it, let’s outlaw your cannabis, alcohol, and heroin.
What kind of people think they’re so superior as to tell others what to do with their lives? No wonder you can’t sleep at night.

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January 15, 2019 at 11:33 am, John said:

Thank you for your reply, Eileen. Yes, I did read the article thoroughly…and my apologies for lumping you into the vast number of articles (I did start by saying you had some good points). But I have many individuals that are in similar situations and know that I vape. The first thing out of some of their mouths is “You know Vaping is dangerous…I read it in an article (or heard it on TV)”. When I follow up on those articles, it’s very much like yours…people read your line “Is vaping safer than smoking” like there are somehow equated. They are only being compared because of the Nicotine (tobacco-product use). I have no question that in the end the delivery method of vaping will have far less health issues (I’m not claiming “none”) then burning ash and ingesting the burning plant material. But instead of staring with “Is vaping safe?”, maybe more people would get the idea with “is ingesting nicotine via vaping vs smoking any safer?”. Driving home the fact that we’re talking about the safety of ingesting a substance that, either way, is terrible for you. I appreciate you changing that phrase, but I see too many articles discussing “banning vaporizers” (I realize that you did not) knowing that most authors are worried about the Nicotine kids are ingesting. Problem is that writers dwell so much on discussing “Vaping” most readers don’t see past the “Vaping is Bad” format. While I do use cannabis periodically (maybe once/twice monthly) recreationally, I reject that somehow this makes someone anymore a “pothead” or “stoner” than the person who drinks a glass of wine several times a month of being an alcoholic. If there is one “Gateway Drug” that should be blamed for people getting into an addictive lifestyle, it’s alcohol. May some do, but I don’t know ANYONE who started smoking or using cannabis in my teen years that didn’t raid mom & dad’s liquor cabinet first. If they were “too good” to drink, chances were they never went to anything else. Don’t get me wrong (on a recreational scale) none of this is good (but from the research that I’ve read, cannabis is FAR better than alcohol and nicotine). I just wish that authors were more direct in differentiating that (as in your article) “Vaping is better than Smoking” but drive home and focus that the danger is in the products being used in those vaporizers. Thanks for the dialogue.

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January 15, 2019 at 11:53 am, Susan said:

The British government recommends vaping over smoking for health reasons. They even say it is up to 90% less harmful then smoking. I have vaped for 6 years now and know lots of people who do not smoke cigs anymore, just vape. The dual-use adult users are actually very rare, while the teens dual-use a lot. And in most of the teen studies done- the question was have you used any of the following in the last month-and then conclude there is a high percentage of dual-use among teens, when the teens may have only smoked one cig in the last month OR taken one hit of an e-cig.

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January 15, 2019 at 1:22 pm, AED Superstore said:

Hi Susan –

Thank you for commenting on this article. Yes, even the CDC states vaping nicotine products is better than smoking for a LOT of reasons. But there are still harmful chemicals in many e-cigarette juices and pods. With American teens, the biggest concern is that students are becoming addicted to nicotine, a tobacco product, at a young age. Many of them are not dual-users, but they are still using an addictive substance with known health implications. Nicotine can affect brain development, and the brains of young adults are still developing well into their early twenties. (https://www.healthline.com/health-news/heres-how-nicotine-affects-the-body#1) – Eileen

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January 15, 2019 at 1:36 pm, Bob Howard said:

I must admit, I get tired of comparing gateway drugs to alcohol. Admittedly, alcohol is definitely a gateway for our youth but unfortunately it is not going away. Most unfortunate is that companies like Juul and Diamond (vape juice distributor) have introduced a brand new gateway that is growing in use by youths at an unprecedented level.

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January 15, 2019 at 2:43 pm, Nancy said:

I am concerned with acute respiratory distress syndrome, sometimes referred to as ‘wet lung’. It occurs when an acute inflammatory lung/injury leads to increased pulmonary vascular permeability, or ‘leaky blood vessels,’ with subsequent fluid accumulation in the lungs. I am sure as more studies are done we will find other harms that occur because of this new trend. Hoping more kids find the joy of breathing deeply doing yoga/exercise than vaping.

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August 21, 2019 at 7:01 am, Eric said:

Wow!

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August 21, 2019 at 7:16 am, Frank said:

May I use this in a Safety Email across our Company? If Yes, would like to give credit to Writer…. would need their name. Thank you,

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August 21, 2019 at 7:18 am, AED Superstore said:

Hello Frank – yes, you may use the article. You can credit AED Superstore. Thanks!

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August 21, 2019 at 7:31 am, Ken Gangler said:

As a father of a teenager, I have seen many young people – teenagers- addicted to these products and severely disrupting and damaging their lives at a critical learning and formative time in their lives. The US government needs to immediately attack this industry for what it is- a new way of getting young people addicted to tobacco products- and make them pay a severe penalty for this.

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August 21, 2019 at 9:42 am, Vanessa said:

This never mentions the effects of e-juice which has zero nicotine in it.

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August 21, 2019 at 11:14 am, AED Superstore said:

Hello Vanessa,

As we replied to another reader, “There have been studies which show even juices and pods labeled 0 mg nicotine can possibly contain some nicotine. Direct from the CDC: “It is difficult for consumers to know what e-cigarette products contain. For example, some e-cigarettes marketed as containing zero percent nicotine have been found to contain nicotine.” (https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/pdfs/Electronic-Cigarettes-Infographic-508.pdf) Right now JUUL, the most popular vape device does not offer non-nicotine pods;however,we are aware there are devices which do not use juices which contain nicotine. In this instance, they are usually referred to as “inhalers” or “Personal aromatherapy inhalers” or “diffusers”. It is generally accepted among teens and young adults that “vaping” is a way to deliver nicotine to the system, and “inhaling” is using a non-nicotine diffuser.”

This article remained focused on the “vaping” teens are doing, thereby using nicotine products. There is just not enough evidence as to the long-term effects of this new habit yet, so we stand by the CDC’s recommendation that if you haven’t ever smoked, using any of these devices is discouraged.

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August 21, 2019 at 8:31 pm, Bill said:

When you get right down to it,there is NO smoke of any kind that you can inhale that is not harmful to your body. Some sources are worse than others, but none do your body good. There are lots of known bad things which have been identified in ‘smoke’ from campfires to forest fires to tobacco and cannibus and plastic… To be healthy keep as much smoke out of your body as possible. Vehicle exhaust in traffic is hard to get away from, but you do not have to intentionally inhale smoke from anything otherwise..
Myself, I am a lifelong non-smoker and yet I have a chronic bronchitis with smoke of any kind being a trigger for it. When I was young I kept score in bowling alleys and the hand dryer blew tobacco smoke from the ashtrays at me until it made me so sick I had to stop this activity. But the damage was done, I cannot be around any smoke at all, to include camp fires… That was all second hand smoke that caused my problem…

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August 22, 2019 at 8:11 am, Jenny said:

My mother-in-law smoked for probably 40+ years before getting cancer in her kidneys, which the doctor said was probably due to her smoking. After having a kidney removed, chemo, and now has tumors in her badder, she moved to e-cigs. I believe she smokes those more than the regular cigarettes because she believes they are not bad because that’s what the manufactures say and no one is effected by them unlike when she smoked regular cigarettes with the smell and she had to leave the room to smoke. The last time I saw her, she was wheezing and short of breath. I don’t believe the e-cigs are helping her situation. I truly feel sorry for those who get addicted to either regular cigarettes or vaping. My advice to kids and teens is don’t start. It’s not worth the cost in money for the product and maybe healthcare costs as time goes on. Your lungs are a precious thing. Don’t take them for grant it. I have asthma. I did not ask for this nor did I do anything to cause it. I wish I had healthy lungs. I wish I didn’t have to go on steroids and/or an inhaler after having a common cold. There’s people out there choosing to ruin their healthy lungs. Life is precious. So are your lungs.

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August 28, 2019 at 10:17 pm, Lordofhealthandvape said:

This article is full of lies and false (some a curate, mostly false) information that is damaging. I can easily point it out:
Towards the bottom the writer tells about how liquid is made…..hes talking salts. And China man….not invent vape. Vape was invented 1965…..do your homework. Google is easy.

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August 29, 2019 at 6:55 am, AED Superstore said:

Thank you for your comment. I would direct you to this article for a history of vaping and the development of modern e-cigarettes: https://www.puffco.com/blogs/puffco-news/84833156-a-history-of-vaping which states, “In 1963, the first electronic cigarette patent was filed by a man named Herbert A. Gilbert. He was the first to invent the smokeless non-tobacco cigarette.” However, it then goes on to note “Sadly his pitch to cigarette manufacturers was rejected as sales at the time were rising and people weren’t aware of the health risks as they are today.” The article then goes on to talk about Hon Lik, the inventor of the device which evolved into today’s e-cigs. This is corroborated in numerous articles about the history of vaping. With regard to what is contained in the liquid, I would refer you to this article from Johns Hopkins Medicine’s website: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-truths-you-need-to-know-about-vaping. It is nicotine use. You have a point that there may be a difference in nicotine salts, however, Juul does use them as put forth in this article: https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/emerging-tobacco-products/e-cigarettes-facts-stats-and-regulations. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.
It is never our intent to lie to our readers but to provide information on topics which relate to their health and their interests. Clearly, this is a topic which strikes a chord with many people both pro and con. With the rising number of young adults and teens being admitted to the hospital for what are being considered vaping-related lung conditions, we felt it prudent to alert the public to the dangers of vaping.

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