What is vaping?
Vaping is the use of a small vaporizer (or electronic cigarette/e-cig) to inhale a combination of nicotine, and propylene glycol or vegetable glycerine-based liquid. Flavourings are commonly added in as well. Vaping was introduced as a harm-reduction alternative to smoking, however this claim has NOT been approved by Health Canada.
What is nicotine?
Nicotine is part of a group of compounds, called alkaloids, that are typically produced by plants to discourage animals from eating them. Morphine and caffeine are other examples of alkaloids. Nicotine commonly comes from the tobacco plant, but there are many other plants from which nicotine can be obtained.
In low doses (an average cigarette or e-cig), nicotine acts as a stimulant in the brain, causing the release of neurotransmitters like adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. This causes feelings like reduced anxiety and pain relief, and enhanced motor skills, attention and memory (making it possibly beneficial against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease). However, it can also have negative effects like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, seizures, and respiratory distress, and may have carcinogenic potential, as it has been shown in the lab to impede the death of cells that are not working properly, and promote tumor growth.
Are e-cigarettes safe?
This is the hard part. Research has found the following:
Yes, conventional cigarettes emit MUCH more carcinogenic particles than e-cigs, there's no doubt about that. However, e-cig vapor may contain small amounts of other toxic ingredients such as nitrosamines, which are linked to cancer, and nanoparticles of various metals including tin, copper, nickel, silver, and silicate beads, from the metals in the container and wiring (possibly due to faulty manufacturing), sometimes in amounts greater than in a conventional cigarette. Nanoparticles can be especially dangerous, as they are so small, they are "capable of evading the body's natural defenses more easily, i.e. passing through pores in the skin or mucous membranes, [and] evading immune and detoxification mechanisms that evolved millions of years before the nanotech era" (Mercola).
E-cigarettes are not just attractive to smokers, but to non-smokers as well. E-cigs are being perceived by many as a harmless, nice-tasting way to get the effects mentioned above. Another real danger is children accessing the e-liquid, or anyone accidentally spilling it on their skin while refilling the cartridge. Just 1 teaspoon of highly diluted e-cig liquid can kill a small child when taken orally or absorbed through the skin.
E-cigarettes are too new to really understand the long-term effects they will have. What's important is that those who choose to vape are careful when handling nicotine-containing E-liquid, and respectful when vaping around others.
Mercola, J. (2014). Secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes contains toxic metals, researchers say. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/09/17/e-cigarette-second-hand-smoke-effect.aspx
Mercola, J. (2014). Poisonings from e-cigarettes and synthetic pot are surging. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/28/e-cigarette-poisoning.aspx
Mercola, J. (2013). Electronic cigarettes contain higher levels of toxic metal nanoparticles than tobacco smoke. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/04/10/electronic-cigarette.aspx
Non-smokers rights association. Postition statement on electronic cigarettes. http://www.quitnow.ca/files/QN/files/library/131101_NSRA_ecig_position_statement_final.pdf