August 19, 2016

Is Vaping Safe?

Khin Maung Myint

Various types of e-cigarettes.
Various types of e-cigarettes.


Not very long ago, I noticed a strange sight during a wedding reception dinner at a posh restaurant in Yangon. A sight, which I had never seen before, even in my frequent travels abroad. A group of elegantly dressed young ladies and gentlemen in their twenties and thirties, passing around a strange looking smoking device, each puffing away before passing on to the next person. At first, I thought it was a cigarette holder that was popular among the fashionable aristocrats, socialites and celebrities, during my younger days. Such cigarette holders were mostly seen in foreign films. However, on closer look, I was wrong. There was no cigarette and the instrument was a bit longer and thicker than the sleek cigarette holders of the old days.
My curiosity as to what those young people were smoking, bothered me throughout the whole reception. I dare not ask my friend, who is very knowledgable, sitting beside me, as I was afraid other strangers at the table might notice my ignorance. Thus on the way back, I asked him and was told that was an e-cigarette. I had heard of the e-cigarettes, not very long ago, but never seen one before. Also, as I had foolishly thought that such things are not yet available in our country,  I had not guessed that strange device to be an e-cigarette. My friend went on to explain that e-cigarette smoking, or rather vaping, had become very popular, especially at parties, among the young generations.
Before proceeding any further, I think, I should explain the term vaping, for the benefit of those who are not familiar with or have never heard of it before. I, myself, came to learn about that new vocabulary only recently from a news item about the word vaping being officially accepted as a new English word by the Oxford English dictionary. That piece of information aroused my curiosity to learn more about what e-cigarettes are and how that new word vaping came into existence and its connection to the e-cigarette. Of course, I turned to the Internet, my treasure trove of information and knowledge. I managed to unearth quite a large amount of information relating to the e-cigarette.
As more and more people become addicted to tobacco smoking and the medical professionals are discovering the harmful or hazardous effects of smoking to health, smokers are advised to quit smoking. However, many had trouble doing that. Someone in China first started inventing a substance that is supposed to be safer than tobacco to replace the harmful tobacco cigarettes. It is in the form of liquified nicotine mixed with propylene glycerol, glycerine and a variety of flavouring to choose from. A device called the electronic cigarette or e-cigarette turns the liquid placed inside it into vapour. Inhaling and exhaling that vapour, abbreviation of which is vape, is called vaping. That term originated in the 1980s as a slang, while experimenting a non-combustible cigarette to substitute for the hazardous tobacco cigarettes. However, it was officially recognized as a new English word only a few years ago and some prominent dictionaries, including the Oxford English dictionary, mentioned it in their latest editions, while some do not mention it as yet.
China was the first to introduce, commercially, this method of vaping as a substitute for tobacco cigarette smoking and is the largest exporter of e-cigarettes in the whole world today. This method is purported to be safe and is claimed that it can even help those who want to quit smoking. However, there is no concrete proof as to the accuracy of their claims.
Even from a layman’s point of view, how can a substance that contain nicotine as the main ingredient be safe or assist in quitting smoking. As a heavy smoker myself at one time, I know full well that nicotine has addicting properties to its user, which become habitual that is very difficult to kick. So, it’s no wonder non-smokers who tried e-cigarettes got addicted to it as it contains nicotine. Thus, in my opinion it’s effectiveness as a substitute for quiting smoking is very doubtful.
Today, reports are emerging that e-cigarettes are not absolutely safe as claimed and for non-smokers who tried it can get addicted to it. It is learnt from some reports that a high percentage of the people who tried vaping to quit smoking are found to be still smoking tobacco cigarettes. Most of them end up vaping as well as smoking. That may be even more hazardous than smoking tobacco cigarettes only.
I first got into the habit of smoking at an early age of sixteen. It was in my first year at the university when I was introduced to this bad habit. When I saw the senior or older students smoking cigarettes, I though it was very stylish or fashionable and foolishly thought it was the signature of a university student. Thus when a friend of mine offered me a cigarette, I accepted to try how it tastes. I had thought only one cigarette wouldn’t make me addicted. However, I was wrong. Whenever, anyone offered me a cigarette, I accepted  and started to enjoy smoking. At first I didn’t know that enjoying smoking was due to addiction. By my Bachelor junior year (third year), I had become a heavy smoker, consuming a packet of twenties a day.
I am mentioning my experience to point out that the nicotine is the main culprit that drove me to addiction. In those days, I would reach for my cigarette pack, which I always kept beside my bed, the moment I woke up, anytime in the middle of the night. At first, I thought it was done absent-mindedly. However, later I realized that it was my brain, craving for nicotine, influenced my actions. To look at it from another perspective, addiction to smoking is in reality a craving for nicotine by the brain. Experts may not totally agree, but I am of the opinion that nicotines, whether in smoke form or vapour form are addictive.
I continued smoking for many years during my career days until one day, I suffered severe coughing. That was a wake up call for me to quit. I found it very difficult to quit in the beginning, but eventually I was able to kick the bad habit, in my late forties. From then onwards, I had urged others to do the same whenever I had the opportunity to do so. I told them that if they really have the will and determination to quit, they could do it.
I had written four articles related to smoking and their adverse effects on health and how to kick the habit, which were published in the Global New Light of Myanmar over two years ago. I’m an ardent advocate for anti-smoking. Now, I am turning my attention to campaign against vaping. It should be prohibited in public places along with the cigarette smoking. It is common knowledge that secondhand smoke is more harmful than the firsthand smoke. Now, I firmly believe that secondhand vape has the same effect as the secondhand smoke. Worse still is the way many young people are sharing the same e-cigarette as mentioned above. It is a very unhealthy practice that could transmit germs from one vaper to another.


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