Long ago and far away, most Americans smoked, and ads like these never even raised an eyebrow:
One reason we laugh at these now is one of the reasons why smoking rates continue to plummet in this country: We all know that smoking wrecks your health. No dentist – or physician or other health professional – would ever recommend it.
And it does far more than just stain your teeth. For one, it raises your risk of gum disease – not to mention a range of associated systemic conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and more.
It also jacks up your risk of tooth loss, as a recent study in the Journal of Dental Research reminds. Analyzing data from more than 23,000 individuals, the authors found that male smokers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer tooth loss than never-smokers, and female smokers are 2.6 times more likely. And the more one smoked, the higher the risk.
The good news? Contrary to some earlier studies, this one found that, after 10 to 20 years of quitting, the risk falls back to almost the same rate as never-smokers.
These days, only 15% of the US population continues to smoke, according to data released last month by the CDC. Here in California, the rate is even lower: 11.7%. Yet the California Department of Health report also showed a “sharp increase” in e-cigarette use among 18 to 24 year olds, with rates nearly the same as for traditional cigarettes.
While some consider vaping to be safer than cigarette smoking and a potential tool for quitting tobacco, recent research suggests that the
use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among US adolescents.
According to this JAMA Pediatrics study, only 10% of youth who had never vaped wound up trying tobacco. Among those who had used e-cigarettes, the rate shot up to more than one third.
E-cigarettes are still new enough that we’re still early in the process of understanding all of its risks. What we do know, though, strongly suggests the need for caution.
One particular concern with respect to oral health is dry mouth – a common complaint among vapers. While this may sound like no big deal, it has some very big consequences. Chronic dry mouth raises your risk of decay, gum disease, enamel erosion and tooth sensitivity.
One area of concern is with ingredients used in the flavorings added to the nicotine liquid that gets vaporized and inhaled. As the Washington Post recently reported,
A growing number of studies find that some of the liquids used in e-cigarettes contain flavorings whose inhalation has been associated with lung problems, ranging from irritation to a rare but serious lung disease. For example, diacetyl, a butter-flavored chemical, has been linked to dozens of cases of bronchiolitis obliterans, a life-threatening obstructive lung disease.
E-cigarettes are unregulated, but that may change. The Food and Drug Administration is considering a rule to extend its cigarette-regulating authority to e-cig devices. More than 7,700 e-cig flavors are being sold under more than 450 brands, with no labeling or testing requirements.
Jessica Barrington-Trimis, an epidemiologist at the University of Southern California who studies tobacco’s health effects, said that flavorings are particularly worrisome because they “have a history of being known respiratory toxins.” Barrington-Trimis, who spoke at an FDA panel looking into e-cigs in March, said that because the devices produce an ultrafine aerosol that goes deep into the lungs, their flavorings “are a natural target” for further investigation. “We need to research this more to understand what chemicals are in these things and what these chemicals may be doing to the lungs of the user,” she said.
Another concern is with toxic heavy metals. A study published last year in Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts found that while the overall particulate release appears to be lower in e-cigarettes, several heavy metals may be released from the cartridge itself and inhaled along with the vapor. These include chromium – a metal not found in traditional cigarettes – and four times the amount of nickel as from regular cigarettes.
The build-up of heavy metals in the body is a major contributor to chronic illness.
With so little to recommend it and such a variety of reasons for concern, it’s hard to see vaping as any cooler or safer than traditional smoking. It may not carry the same risks, but that hardly means it’s risk-free.