Science Digest: Do you know what’s inside…


Vaping has fast replaced smoking – but is it any better for you? Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand is on its way to curbing people’s addiction to nicotine cigarettes, but is the switch to vaping or e-cigarettes any better for the public?

Increased prices, tough legislation and a growing awareness of health risks have pushed many smokers away from cigarettes. In its wake, vaping has exploded in popularity in New Zealand, with chain store Shosha now operating over 100 stores, while research shows there are more stores selling vaping products near schools than there are fast food joints.

Many teenagers and people who never tried cigarettes are now hooked on vaping, with many seeing it as a healthier option to smoking.

On Science Digest, the NZ Herald’s science podcast hosted by Dr Michelle Dickinson, Will Toogood, a digital producer at NZME, said that he originally smoked as a teenager but switched to vaping as a result of price.

“It wasn’t really a health thing for me because I knew cigarettes were bad for me, but I still did it anyway. It was purely price that drove me towards it, and inconvenience as well.”

Asked if he knows what’s in e-cigarettes, Toogood said he did not. “Flavour and price are the two things I’m really concerned about.

“I have looked at the back of the packet occasionally and there are a lot of long words there. I don’t know what’s in a bottle of Coke, and I still drink that.”

Speaking on the podcast, Dr Kelly Burrowes from the University of Auckland told Science Digest that early research has suggested that there are concerning ingredients in there.

“In the e-liquid the main components are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, so these can be in different ratios. There’s also normally nicotine, although you can get nicotine-free e-liquid, and then as well as that, there’s a lot of flavouring chemicals.

“There’s been reported to be as many as 15,000 different flavours on the market internationally, and each of these different flavouring liquids will have a different combination of chemicals in them to make [the flavour].”

She said while these chemicals are safe for us to eat, they have not been tested to see if they are safe to inhale.

The vapes themselves can also cause unwanted chemicals to enter your body.

“The e-liquids get heated to around about 200 to 300C. So you can actually get some different products in the aerosol. With this heating, you can get some degradation or breakdown of these original chemicals.

“So that can lead to, things like formaldehyde, for example, being found in the aerosol, so these are known carcinogens. There’s also been heavy metals found in the aerosol. The e-cigarette devices themselves have typically a metal heating coil, or it could be ceramic, and there’s been particles of these metals, for example, lead, copper, chromium, found in the aerosols.”

Burrowes said that new regulations mean that there are quality assurance level tests and labels on products now required, but no safety tests on if the products are safe to inhale.

Put off by the mentions of metal in the aerosol, Toogood asked Burrowes how long it would be before there is clear evidence of how damaging the long-term health effects are.

Burrowes said it could be as long as a decade away, but scientists and researchers are already getting an early look at what the effects may be.

“Even though we don’t know what the long-term health effects are, we know there will be something,” she said.

“I think the question is how great will it be. Short-term studies are showing there are negative health effects already.”

While he was not convinced by the end of the podcast recording, Toogood has since decided to quit vaping as a result of what Burrowes shared.

Science Digest is available to follow on iHeartRadio, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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