The US city of San Francisco decided to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes starting in 2020. Currently, the scientific consensus indicates that steaming is undoubtedly less dangerous than smoking, but the health risks in the long term are still unknown.
Steam consists of inhaling vapors created by heating a liquid inside the electronic cigarette at high temperature. Most of these liquids contain nicotine. Nicotine has been well studied for decades: it is addictive and affects brain development before age 25, the US government insists.
Although electronic cigarettes do not include many carcinogenic substances found in combustible cigarettes, such as tar, the vapor contains fine particles that enter the lungs. There are “potentially toxic substances,” concludes a report by the American Academy of Science published in 2018 at the request of Congress, which analyzed all the studies published so far.
These include metals – such as nickel and lead – that are likely to come off the coil used to heat the liquid; and additives considered safe in the food industry, but which are related to lung diseases or have not been studied in their vaporized form.
It is possible that these substances have long-term toxic effects on body cells. But to prove it would require studies for several decades.
Is vaping dangerous?
The electronic cigarette market is relatively new: since the mid-2000s. This gives researchers little perspective.
For smokers, it seems that replacing the cigarette by vaping has positive effects: although the nicotine remains, the substances present in cigarettes that are known to be certain that they are carcinogenic are avoided.
A study recently conducted in the United Kingdom and published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that electronic cigarettes were more effective than patches, chewing gums and other substitutes for smoking cessation.
On the other hand, more and more studies show that young nonsmokers who start to vaporize are more likely to start smoking.
The authorities are concerned that the advances of recent years are fading because, in the United States, generations of college and high school students, who smoked less, have now become accustomed to nicotine through vaporeo, a potential gateway to tobacco.
Prohibition or control?
The vaping industry and its advocates say that it is necessary to prevent young people from vaporeas. Electronic cigarettes are already prohibited for sale to people under the age of 18 or 21 in the United States, depending on the state. But the sale ban is, according to them, the worst solution because it neglects adults who want to quit smoking.
“Depriving these smokers of e-cigarettes, which are known to be much less harmful than cigarettes, is a very bad decision,” said Neil McKeganey, co-director of the Center for Substance Use Research, a British research center that is partially funded by the industry. .
The paradox is that in San Francisco the sale of alcohol, cigarettes and cannabis will remain legal (for those over 21).
The health risks of alcohol consumption are well known for alcohol (cancers, cardiovascular and digestive diseases, cirrhosis …) and tobacco (cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory failure …). As for cannabis, studies have shown its harmful effect on brains still in development, in adolescents and young adults.
Instead of a ban on electronic cigarettes, the industry recommends tighter control of sales. In that field there is still much to be done: an analysis published Monday in the medical journal JAMA showed that half of the companies that sell electronic cigarettes do not verify the age of buyers in California.