Vaping: how safe is it?

From the latest covers to the variety of flavours; vaping appears to be hottest new trend for smokers. Now, although the industry claims that this a safe alternative to cigarettes, how much do we know about the health effects of vaping? Alina Hardcastle further explores this exceedingly controversial issue.

Properties of e-cigarettes

When enquiring about the properties of e-cigarettes, Sharri Van Zyl, owner of Vape King, informs us that an e-cigarette consists of a battery, a health element and a chamber. While the liquid consists of various levels of nicotine, propylene glycol, which can be found in asthma pumps and oxygen machines, vegetable glycerine and either natural or artificial flavours.

But when you see or hear about ingredients such as nicotine you immediately start to question, exactly how safe are e-cigarettes compared to your conventional cigarettes?


Professor Richard Van Zyl-Smit, head of the lung clinical research unit at the University of Cape Town, says, “As far as we can know, they look safer but this is based on the premises that cigarettes kill 50% of people who use them, so if e-cigarettes only killed 40% of their users, it would still be regarded as safer. So the safer argument is fair enough when you’re comparing it to something that kills half of the people that use it.”

On the other hand, Van Zyl informs us that recent studies conducted by NHS in the UK show that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than conventional cigarettes.


There are also raised concerns about the increasing number of teenagers who have never smoked cigarettes that are experimenting with e-cigarettes.

So what impact might this have on children’s health?

Van Zyl- Smit highlights, “For adolescents, because of their brain development, nicotine is potentially highly addictive and they should be counselled to stay far away from e-cigarettes or tobacco. There is conflicting data regarding the long term impact of the increased number of adolescents using e-cigarettes, but whether this translates into more adult smokers is yet to be confirmed.”

He also mentions that nicotine is an active addictive substance found in both tobacco and e-cigarettes, thus users new and old will potentially become addicted. It has effects on your immune system, increases blood pressure and may increase the development of your new blood vessels. Other effects include regulating your appetite and weight to some degree.

When enquiring about a usage age restriction, Van Zyl responds, “At the moment there are no laws governing this, however any reputable vendors in South Africa and worldwide will not sell e-cigarettes or anything to do with them to anybody under the age of 18. VapeCon , one day conference for vapers, is coming up in August and no people under the age of 18 will be allowed to attend. In a survey conducted among our customers as well as other company’s customers, 98% of them were smokers before. Vaping is not a gateway.”

She adds, “All e-liquid labels should have a comprehensive list of ingredients, they should have the correct nicotine strength checked and should have a warning label to be kept away from children and pets.”


As stated above, nicotine is highly addictive, so how is this actually helping smokers as they are they just transferring their addiction to another substance.

Van Zyl-smit informs us that e-cigarettes are not addressing nicotine addiction but just attempting to make it safer (as opposed to?) which is similar to clean needles for IV drug users or alternatives for heroin users such as methadone.

In conclusion

So what impact could e-cigarettes have on our health in the next couple of years? Unfortunately because there is no long term data, we just don’t know yet.

Currently the only major concerns that Van-Zyl informs us about e-cigarettes, at this point, is allergies in regards to propylene glycol (PG) and some of the flavourings. Vapers should also be aware to drink the recommended daily water intake as it can cause dehydration if you don’t drink enough water. Various nicotine strengths are also important as some people get a sore throat and headaches if the nicotine content of a specific flavour is too high.

Van Zyl-Smit concludes, “This is very controversial topic, tobacco companies are actively involved in the industry which makes finding the truth that much harder. Tobacco should be avoided at all costs but if a smoker absolutely cannot give it up, then an e-cigarette looks like a safer alternative at present but this is unproven and what might happen in five to ten years is still to be discovered