What is ‘vaping’and why should you care?

Good Vapes is an attractive store located at the shopping center anchored by Kroger at Northwest Highway and Plano Road. Because I shop at Kroger, I’ve passed the store many times and never given it a second thought, beyond gratitude that it’s not a payday loan operation.

Recently, friend and Lake Highlands neighbor Carol Toler blogged on Advocatemag.com about the products of the store. Good Vapes sells electronic cigarette kits and flavored e-juice that may (or may not) be laced with nicotine, depending on the purchaser’s preference. The vapor produced is more like water vapor and dissipates more quickly than smoke. Toler wanted to alert parents that some teens in Lake Highlands have discovered “vaping.”

Unlike most blog posts on advocatemag.com, this one generated 241 comments (at last count) — the overwhelming majority defending the practice they call “vaping”.

Before I go any further, I want to bring up all the positive information I have learned about the shop and vaping over the past couple of weeks. I’ll begin with a statement from the shop-owners, who responded in part, “E-cigarettes are a completely legal alternative to smoking traditional combusted tobacco cigarettes … Good Vapes is a privately owned small business. We specialize in electronic cigarettes. That is all that we sell … We believe in the benefits of e-cigs because they have helped us as well as the people that we serve.”

The statement refers to the many testimonials from vapers who say using e-cigs has helped them quit smoking cigarettes and reduced their exposure to the toxins in smoke. Although there is no federal or Texas law prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes or e-juice to minors, most shops, including Good Vapes, choose to limit sales to people over 18.

But a strange twist in tobacco regulation prohibits vendors from marketing e-cigs as a therapy to help smokers quit, because then it would be a “drug” and require more testing. A federal court ruled the FDA can only regulate the product the same way it regulates cigarettes.

I’ve never tried smoking, but I admit I have a knee-jerk negative reaction. Both my parents smoked heavily and ultimately suffered health problems. Also, I just really hate the smell. So when I saw so many emotional comments defending vaping on the blog, I entered the discussion to point out that vaping can still be a nicotine delivery system (if the user chooses to use nicotine), and nicotine addiction is not a good idea.

For my trouble, I was called a puritan, a hypocrite and a probable addict, since the vapers presumed (rightly) I am a coffee drinker. Many asserted that nicotine, when divorced from smoke, is no worse than caffeine.

I began to wonder if that was true. If it doesn’t have to smell terrible or require a spittoon, is a nicotine addiction worth avoiding?

Both substances are stimulants that increase the heart rate and blood pressure, but caffeine is derived from a bean, while nicotine is actually a natural insecticide developed by the tobacco plant. It would take 10,000 milligrams of caffeine to kill a human being (according to the National Institute of Health), but it would take only 50 to 60 milligrams of nicotine to do the job (Centers for Disease Control). Bottom line: nicotine’s toxicity is higher than caffeine’s.

Does nicotine cause cancer without the noxious chemicals found in smoke? Research shows that even without the smoke, nicotine causes changes in cells that contribute to harmful mutations and increase tumor growth. Caffeine research has not uncovered any connections between caffeine and cancer, heart disease or stroke.

Caffeine restricts blood vessels in the brain, so when caffeine addicts quit, they suffer from headaches when the blood vessels in their brains dilate. But nicotine affects the brain’s “reward system,” the neurotransmitters that give us positive feedback. That’s why quitting nicotine feels worse than a headache and is harder to kick.

My conclusion is that caffeine actually is the more benign substance, and although a fix at Starbucks can be expensive, it’s still cheaper than a nicotine addiction. On the plus side, vaping may be healthier than smoking (so far, there aren’t enough tests to know for sure), and tobacco growers may have found a new market.

Parents of teens, draw your own conclusions.