Uncertainty of Vaping

Al Jacobs

The headline is unsettling: “Why is Vaping Turning Deadly?” The article’s text is even more so. Health officials across the country are scrambling to understand a mysterious vaping-linked lung disease killing users while sending many others to hospitals. The question is: What’s gone wrong with vaping?

The evolution of the vape industry, tracing itself to the first electronic cigarette patented by Herbert Gilbert in 1963, is now, since the turn of the century, truly vibrant. These did not become a publicly-sold product until 2003. In that year Hong Kong pharmacist Hon Lik, presumably searching for a safer alternative to smoking, produced the first modern e-cigarette. The product became popular in China and then spread throughout the world.

With vaporizer technology changing constantly and the result of an almost dynamic evolution, their applications are being constantly expanded in an effort to make them ever more marketable.

So what has gone wrong with vaping? Let’s take a closer look at what it became. It’s no longer based – if it ever was – upon a program to assist cigarette smokers to switch to a device to enable them to end their addiction to both tobacco and its nicotine accomplice. Instead, it morphed into a scheme wherein all sorts of substances are incorporated into the vaporizers.

Instead of merely administering minimal amounts of nicotine for the purpose of satisfying the smoker’s addictive need, many users are receiving vapors consisting of massive quantities of the substance, together with flavored juices, cannabis extracts and aerosols in which unknown substances of all sorts are incorporated. Despite the claims of its advocates that it’s intended to be a stop-smoking program, it’s nothing of the sort. It is, instead, a smoking substitute marketed solely for the profit it generates.

But as you might not have guessed, the proliferation of mock cannabis in the process may be the source of the illnesses now experienced. Shops are openly selling hardware used to introduce counterfeit marijuana in the vaping. The result: authentic-looking vape cartridges sold by unlicensed dispensaries and delivery services. Patients report purchasing vapes from pop-up shops or other illegal sellers that become a pipeline for counterfeit products.

According to former federal prosecutor Priya Sopori: “Someone is buying these packaged cartridges, filing them with whatever and selling them under recognized brand names.” Despite the perception vaping is a more healthful alternate to smoking, it can be hard for people to tell whether a product is made by a legitimate company; the phony packaging is convincing to the untrained eye.

Since April, when reports of lung ailments first came to light, instances of illness and death across the country continue to occur. Ailments of a cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain are often followed with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, or weight loss – generally worsening over time. And these patients confirm having recently used an electronic cigarette or vaporizer. These are battery-powered devices which can look like flash drives, pens, or small battery packs.

And as many of the patients told physicians, they’d vaped with no problems for years. This leads health officials to believe these new ingredients, inserted to induce both a more affable flavor as well as a greater inducement for habitual use, are causing the current problems.

Early research conducted in New York suggests the illness could be linked to vape liquids with added vitamin E acetate, a chemical considered safe to swallow but not to inhale. The purpose of this additive is to thicken the vaping liquid so it can be produced in higher quality and therefore sold at a higher price.

It’s clear the safety of what’s administered to users, as well as its effectiveness in actually assisting the smoker in kicking the habit, are not of primary concern to the marketers of the product. Rather, the profits to be generated are of foremost importance … which should surprise no one who understands how businesses of this sort are conducted.

Perhaps this is a suitable time to discuss a few mostly unknown facts concerning nicotine’s addictiveness. Although it can be described as a relatively mild drug, it possesses some unusual characteristics. It doesn’t impart much in the way of euphoria or impairment itself; instead, it reinforces the rewards generated by other drugs and even behaviors. It’s for this reason nicotine’s actual physiological addiction is not what binds the smoker, but rather psychological and sociological dependency. Let me put it in plainer terms so there’s no misunderstanding. If you’re a smoker who wants to quit, but can’t, it may well be the imperfections in your life causing it … but, if you can overcome the imperfections, breaking the habit may become easy.

I realize what I’m suggesting may be hard to swallow, but I swear it’s the truth. You’re now entitled to a testimonial. I’m no stranger to tobacco smoke. For four years as a teenager I puffed my way daily through two packs of Raleigh cigarettes. I attempted twice – unsuccessfully – to kick the habit, but found myself drawn back each time. My first attempt ended when I received several bad grades in my high school courses. Perhaps I rationalized that if I could imitate John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart as a hard-fisted smoker, I didn’t need good grades.

My second failure was when my girl friend and I broke up; possibly the cigarette compensated for the social rejection. However, following my first semester at a community college, where I managed, for the first time ever, to get good grades – as well as a new girl friend who seemed to approve of me – my academic and social life ceased being a drag. I felt good about myself. And shortly thereafter, I lost my urge to light up.

Quitting turned out to be remarkably easy this time. After the first few days of urges, I don’t recall experiencing a craving. My need for a nicotine fix never reoccurred.

A word on nicotine withdrawal symptoms: They normally begin a few hours after the last cigarette. They’re usually strongest during the first week. In reality, the craving for the drug is short-lived, with withdrawal quickly fading and mostly gone after about two weeks. It’s for this reason such aids as smoking patches and gradual withdrawal plans are ineffective. If and when a person truly resolves to quit, the most efficacious method is cold turkey. Once the 10 to 15-day physical craving for the nicotine is gone, our smoker becomes an ex-smoker. The last thing needed is a dose of nicotine to start it all over again.

This now brings us to the most contentious question of all. For those persons who – for whatever reason – cannot give up blowing smoke in one fashion or another, are they better off continuing to light their Marlboros and Parliaments, or is the vaporizer the way to go? The fact is, neither is healthful. However, of the two, only tobacco causes the cigarette’s most pernicious ailment: lung cancer.

The culprit in this case is a radioactive substance in the tobacco leaves from which cigarettes are made. The soil the tobacco is grown in is heavily treated with phosphate fertilizers, rich in the element uranium’s radioactive decay isotope of lead-210. When a smoker lights up and inhales the smoke, this radioactive substance is attached to the vaporized tobacco leaf entering the lungs and then precipitates to form the dark brown coating characteristic of a smoker’s lung. As a beta emitter (high-speed electron) with a half-life of 22.3 years, the lead isotope emits ionizing beta particles, thereby bombarding lung tissue with malignant-causing radiation.

For the next half-century, the radioactive lead atoms still attached to the lung tissue are emitting these particles. As individuals age, their weakened immune system no longer effectively fights off the cancer cells formed. I’ll say no more; you know the ending.

A final thought: You’ve received the details; you know what the purveyors are peddling; you may smoke or vape as you choose; I figured out by age 19 that only a dunce would put that junk into themselves. Let me wish you all the best of luck.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. Al can be contacted at al@abjacobs.com.


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