Smoking cigarettes leads to cancer, other serious lung diseases, and death. That’s not news in 2018. Decades of scientific research has made an open-and-shut case against cigarettes.
Vaping, by contrast, has been a trend only in the past decade or so. Data is coming in from studies on the health effects of e-cigarettes, but it will take decades to match the length of time that traditional cigarettes have been scrutinized.
What we know so far, however, doesn't bode well for vapers’ eye health or overall health.
How Do E-Cigarettes Compare To Regular Cigarettes?
Often touted as a tool to step down tobacco use and help a smoker quit, e-cigarettes are perhaps more likely to work the other way—as an introduction to smoking that leads from vaping to regular, combustible cigarettes.
While most teens are aware that traditional cigarettes are harmful, there is a widespread misconception that e-cigarettes are a “safe” or “safer” alternative.
In fact, while smoking has been declining among teens in the U.S. for 40 years, vaping has been rising dramatically. “For the first time in 2014, more teenagers used e-cigarettes or vaped nicotine than smoked cigarettes—a trend that continues,” according to government statistics. Vaping seems to be replacing traditional tobacco products at an alarming rate.
How Does Vaping Work?
Do e-cigarettes skip the smoke? Yes.
But do they nevertheless contain toxic chemicals that can cause cancer and damage your vision? Again, yes.
Far from a magic bullet, vaping devices still deliver nicotine into your lungs and the rest of your body, as well as many of the harmful chemicals that traditional cigarettes do, including heavy metals and formaldehyde.
Flavored varieties appear to be more harmful still.
While some sources tout e-cigarettes as a “healthier” alternative to smoking traditional tobacco products, that is far from true. For example, some vaping devices actually deliver higher amounts of heavy metals and formaldehyde.
Know the risks to your eyesight and the rest of your health.
What Are The Risks Of Vaping?
Smoking increases risk of developing eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.
These risks are also present for e-cigarettes, although in what exact proportions is unclear until further research is done.
Of 20 ways that smoking can affect your eye health, only a few are from tobacco alone.
Using a vaporizer or e-cigarette delivers all of the same toxic ingredients except the tobacco itself.
Formaldehyde is one such toxic ingredient. It is also a major eye irritant.
In fact, there are several chemicals in e-cigarettes that are known to cause inflammation of the eyes, nose, and throat. One other is propylene glycol, which can also damage the central nervous system and spleen. Both chemicals are found in most vaping liquids.
Besides causing irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, formaldehyde is known to be a compound that damages DNA. This is how it leads to cancer. Two other compounds—acrolein and methylglyoxal—also cause DNA damage, and all three of these chemicals are found in the bodies of e-cigarette users.
Many of the liquids that are heated in an e-cigarette vaporizer are flavored.
Diacetyl is a chemical component of most flavorings. Before e-cigarettes, diacetyl was infamous as the cause of “popcorn lung”—known by the medical term bronchiolitis obliterans. The “popcorn” name came from a famous case in which workers throughout a microwave popcorn plant developed severe health problems from breathing in the diacetyl, which was used to add butter flavor.
Besides the deadly lung condition, many workers also developed irritated eyes. The exposure to just this one ingredient that is also found in e-cigarettes was enough to affect many systems throughout the body, including the eyes.
Most consumer food products removed the diacetyl once its effects were known.
By contrast, it is added intentionally to vaping products in flavors like coconut, vanilla, and caramel.
In fact, “A 2015 study of flavored e-cigarettes found that 39 out of 51 tested brands contained diacetyl. The same study concluded that most of these brands also contained the toxic chemicals acetoin and pentanedione,” according to Medical News Today.
Diacetyl is a case that demonstrates that many of the same chemicals that cause irritation of the eyes also can lead to cancer or other fatal diseases like popcorn lung. While formaldehyde, propylene glycol, and diacetyl all cause persistent inflammation of the eyes and respiratory tracts, they also have far more serious, systemic effects on the body that can actually be deadly.
In addition, there is reason to believe that most of the serious health effects of smoking also apply to vaping, whether that be effects on vision or on the rest of the body. Vaping has not been around long enough for longitudinal studies. Research hasn’t had time yet to follow up on patients who’ve been vaping most of their lives. But e-cigarettes have nearly all the same components that regular smokes do, minus the tar, so it follows that the exposure to toxic chemicals will have similar effects.
For example, the nicotine that e-cigarettes deliver raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye, a condition called hypertensive retinopathy. This is true whether the nicotine comes from traditional cigarettes or a vaping device.
Even the publication Vaping Daily say that e-cigarettes “are not a viable alternative for those concerned about their eyesight.” The UK’s Vision Matters campaign notes that “the link between smoking and sight loss is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer.”
Vaping seems to share many of the health risks of traditional cigarettes, for the eyes as well as the rest of the body.