Smoking kills eight million people every year worldwide. It is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Australia. With successful public health measure and strategies, there has been a significant decline in daily smoking within Australia—but what we are finding these days is an increase in the use of e-cigarettes.
Between 2016 and 2019, the proportion of people using e-cigarettes has risen from 9% to 11%. Of those who had tried e-cigarettes, 18% used them at least monthly and 9% used them daily. So, what are e-cigarettes and how are they affecting our population?
What are E-cigarettes?
They are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid to form vapour which is then inhaled, mimicking the effect of smoking. The liquid in the e-cigarette called e-liquid is usually made up of propylene glycol, glycerine, flavourings, water and nicotine. Using e-cigarettes are commonly referred to as vaping. E-cigarettes are commonly used to vape nicotine e-liquid solution but can also be used to inhale other drugs such as cannabis or even nicotine-free liquids which are made from a mixture of chemicals including solvents, sweeteners, and flavourings.
Why are people using e-cigarettes?
People use e-cigarettes for various reasons:
- Curiosity about the new trend and wanting to try it.
- For smokers, it is seen as an alternative to help quit smoking.
- Some believe it is less harmful than cigarettes due to not having tobacco.
- It is cheaper than traditional cigarettes and does taste better due to the flavourings.
- It is also seen as more acceptable than traditional cigarettes.
Are they safer than cigarettes?
While e-cigarettes are widely believed to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, they are still not harmless. There are known risks in brain development with the use of nicotine in any form, including that found in e-cigarettes.. Additionally it can damage DNA, promote the growth of tumours and can also be linked to different types of cancers. There are also risks linked to nicotine poisoning via ingestion and skin contact with the e-liquid solutions.
Even though e-cigarettes containing nicotine are banned from being sold in Australia, people may still legally access an e-liquid that contains nicotine via a special import arrangement.
E-cigarettes contain a mixture of unregulated, harmful chemicals and additives. The two main ingredients used in all e-liquids are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine, which are considered safe in certain food products. However, the health consequences of repeatedly heating and inhaling these chemicals into the lungs can have the potential to cause harm. E-cigarettes can also contain other toxins such as formaldehyde; heavy metals; volatile organic compounds; ultrafine particles and other carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) that can damage the lungs.
The manufacturer quality of the e-cigarette can also heavily vary. Different companies and types of e-cigarette design make it difficult to determine the potential level of nicotine toxicity in each device or liquid. They can also be modified to deliver a higher, more harmful concentration of nicotine and producing more toxic chemical particles in the inhaled vapour.
How does it affect our oral health?
According to a research article published in 2019, the propylene glycol found in e-cigarettes can break down in the mouth into other compounds that are toxic to enamel and soft tissue. The water molecules in the mouth can also bond to the propylene glycol resulting in dry mouth which can then lead to an increase in cavities, gum disease, and other oral health issues.
Another ingredient is the vegetable glycerine which by itself does not cause any damage but when combined with flavourings, it increased bacterial adhesion to enamel. This can cause a decrease in enamel hardness and hence cause rampant decay.
Nicotine as we already know has a dangerous effect on the gum tissue. It restricts the blood flow to the gums and affects cell function causing a higher chance of developing gum disease and tooth loss.
How is this affecting our population and what can we do?
With the increased appeal of vaping, they are becoming a trend within our younger generation. Social media has played a role as a source of information and a means of e-cigarette advertising for young people. Young people who vape nicotine are exposed to a toxic chemical that can harm the adolescent brain and lead to dependence
There is also some evidence that vaping nicotine is associated with later tobacco use among adults. Even though smokers see it as an alternative to quitting smoking, research shows that former smokers who use e-cigarettes are more likely to relapse.
As e-cigarettes are fairly new in the market, scientists are still learning about how it affects health when used for long periods of time.
While we can’t make choices for our clients, at Bite we strongly encourage those who vape or use traditional cigarettes to come in for regular check-ups which include oral cancer checks. If you’re noticing any changes in your mouth, it’s important that you let us know.