Our collective consciousness on the health risks of smoking cigarettes has been high for decades, and for a good reason. There are thousands of chemicals present in cigarette smoke, some of which are known to cause cancer and other lung chronic lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis.
Over the years, there have been a number of trends involving smoke through other mediums. From e-cigarettes to marijuana to hookah, there are a wide variety of products available in the market that claim (or have at some point claimed) to be less harmful to the lungs. So what's the story here? Should pot smokers, hookah bar-goers, and vape users be concerned about their lung health?
In this post, we look at the scientific literature to better understand the health and safety of marijuana, hookah, and vaporizers.
Due to the ever-growing restrictions around smoking in public and the nuisance of smoke, many smokers are shifting to what is fashionably known as vaping. Also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems or vapes, e-cigarettes are increasingly popular amongst younger adults. Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes also contain nicotine, but they use heat from a battery-operated device to release the chemicals.
Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are the main ingredients found in E-cigarettes, and a recent study has found these to be toxic to the cells in our bodies. They also contain other dangerous chemicals which have been linked to cardiovascular diseases, acute lung injury, COPD, even asthma, and lung cancer.
The FDA has not found any of the e-cigarettes to be safe, and there is no credible evidence that these help in quitting smoking.
There is an unfounded myth that cigars are safer than cigarettes. In fact, cigars contain the same toxic chemicals, and a single cigar can contain as much tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes. Cigar smoking has similar harmful effects as cigarette smoking - it has been linked to cancers of the lung, esophagus, and larynx, and also to chronic lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and COPD.
Many believe cannabis to be "natural" and "better for you" than tobacco. The science, however, is somewhat mixed.
Despite being the world's most widely-used illicit drug, there hasn't been a ton of research into marijuana's effects on respiratory health. There is evidence to suggest that smoking marijuana results in a greater respiratory burden of carbon monoxide and tar than smoking similar quantities of tobacco. There are consistent findings associating cannabis smoke with large airway inflammation, symptoms of bronchitis, increased airway resistance, and lung hyperinflation. But more research is needed to better understand the differences between how cannabis smoke and cigarette smoke affect your lungs.
Some sweetened and flavored nontobacco products are sold for use in hookahs. Still, studies of tobacco-based shisha and "herbal" shisha have confirmed that smoke from both preparations contains carbon monoxide and other toxic agents known to increase the risks for smoking-related cancers, heart disease, and lung disease.
The main difference between hookah and cigarettes is that the tobacco in hookah is released through charcoal heated air, which in turn releases other dangerous substances like carbon monoxide. A hookah session can involve 100 to 200 puffs of smoke, which means smokers actually inhale up to 1.7 times the nicotine and nine times the carbon monoxide as a single cigarette.
So not all smokes are created equal – but all smoke carries health risks.
If you or any of your loved ones want to be free from smoking, the American Lung organization has scientifically proven programs that can be of help.