What little is known about the long-term effects of vaping does not bode well for lung health, especially as it is becoming hugely popular among young people.
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“Because electronic cigarettes are quite recent, we don’t have any studies on the risks after 30 years of use. But according to our data and that of other researchers, they are far from trivial,” warns Kim Lavoie, co-director of the Montreal Center for Behavioral Medicine.
Together with colleagues, she has compiled a comprehensive summary of available studies on the acute physiological effects of vaping.
Results ? On the cardiac side, smoking an electronic cigarette increases heart rate and blood pressure just as much as traditional cigarettes.
Beware of “popcorn” lungs
On the pulmonary side, the risk appears to be less important, even though vaping has also been linked to increased inflammation of the lungs.
“We can estimate that the more often this inflammation is caused, the greater the risk of developing lung diseases, including lung cancer,” says Ms Lavoie.
Among the worst side effects on record, doctors face vapers with “popcorn lungs”, the nickname given to inflammation of the bronchioles.
As of August 2020, 20 cases of vaping-associated lung disease have also been reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada, according to the latest published figures.
While research is still needed, Kim Lavoie cites studies showing a link between chemicals in flavored vapor liquids and lung damage.
Easy to get it
It’s all the more concerning when you consider the popularity of these flavors — grapefruit, cherry, or even cotton candy — among teens, she says.
While it is illegal to sell vaping products to minors in Quebec, according to the latest survey, 35% of high school students are consumers.
“Young people tell us they have no problem getting products from big brands,” said Flory Doucas, spokesperson for the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.
“And the companies have some pretty spectacular marketing to attract them, especially the girls,” adds Kim Lavoie.
If vaping is beneficial for smokers who want to quit, the researcher recommends starting vaping at all costs assuming it is a behavior with no health effects.
A Less Evil
As for cannabis, Sean Gilman, a pulmonologist who specializes in smoking cessation, claims that recreational use is safer than cigarettes.
Still, he advises giving preference to oils and edible products.
Consumption becomes a problem when tobacco is mixed into a joint, which is common among heavy smokers, Dr. Gilman says.
The Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control is calling for a ban on the sale of flavored vapor products, except those containing tobacco, as is the case in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
†With Hugo Duchaine
A cancer that evokes less empathy
Lung cancer is often perceived as “deserved” because of the patient’s years of smoking, which makes the experience even more difficult for them.
“People can have a strong sense of guilt or shame and be hesitant to talk about their diagnosis,” said Josée Savard, a professor of psychology at Laval University.
This is even more true if these smokers have been told for years that smoking is bad for their health and that they should stop.
In addition to the guilt they feel, patients have to deal with their loved ones’ response to this ill-reputed cancer.
“The people around you may react with less empathy than if it were any other cancer. Without it being put into words, some will think it’s deserved,” explains Ms Savard.
These kinds of opinions can even affect the quality of support patients receive during one of the most difficult times in their lives.
“And that can have a devastating effect,” she continues, stressing the importance of compassion and kindness toward the patient, regardless of the cancer.
The psycho-oncology specialist recommends that her patients show empathy for their past decisions.
“We can recognize that smoking had an impact on the diagnosis as we tried to understand why we were so addicted to cigarettes. †
Away from the pink ribbon
But even on the scale of society, cancers don’t all attract the same sympathy or the same mobilization.
Just think of the pink ribbon campaign against breast cancer, or movember for the fight against prostate cancer.
Nothing is more popular for lung cancer but deadliest for Quebecers.
“We don’t talk about it much because of the number of individuals it affects,” said pulmonologist Catherine — Labbé of the University Institute of Cardiology and Pneumology of Quebec.
“And I think there are a lot of patients who don’t feel as understood and supported as if they had cancer with more publicity. †
Cancer patients who request it can receive free psychological follow-up on a doctor’s prescription.