Remember the old days with books, vinyl records, and payphones? These days, it seems like you can get an electronic version of everything. E-books on e-readers. Albums on Spotify. Smartphones and video calls. And now, even cigarettes! While e-cigarettes have been touted as a “healthy” alternative to cigarettes, vaping may in fact still be harmful to your health – as well as your hearing health!
Today we’ll take a look at cigarettes, e-cigarettes (vaping), and the effects they have on your hearing health.
A Quick History of Tobacco
According to Health Literacy, “Tobacco has a long history in the Americas” and was grown by indigenous populations for hundreds of years before European colonialism. In the 17th century, colonizers “grew tobacco as a cash crop. It was their main source of money…Tobacco helped pay for the American Revolution against England.” By the 19th century, tobacco was used in hand-rolled cigarettes and cigars, in a pipe, and for chewing. In 1865, “the first commercial cigarettes were made…by Washington Duke on his 300-acre farm in Raleigh, North Carolina.” With the cigarette-making machine invented in 1881, Duke went into business with the inventor, James Bonsack, and produced 10 million cigarettes in the first year Five years later, they were producing one billion cigarettes a year.
Cigarette sales continued to grow well into the 20th century, until a report was issued in 1964 by the US Surgeon General stating that “the nicotine and tar in cigarettes cause lung cancer.” As a result, Congress passed the Cigarette Labelling and Advertising Act, which lead to “Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health” stamped on every pack of cigarettes sold in the US. However, this did not stop people from smoking. In fact, the tobacco industry got creative, with “low tar” and “low nicotine” cigarettes introduced in the 1980s. In 1984, Congress passed another measure, which resulted in four different labels that tobacco companies were required to print on cigarette packs. These are ones we recognize today, such as “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.”
Over the years, many measures have been passed to restrict cigarette smoking in public places, from airplanes to bars. Heavy taxes have been levied on cigarette purchases to deter people from smoking. Still – people smoke. However, e-cigarettes have become more popular in recent years.
E-Cigarette Usage in the US
E-cigarettes have grown in popularity in the past decade and a half. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey on e-cigarettes. Findings revealed that “3.7% of American adults used electronic cigarettes on a regular basis,” is represents more than 9 million adult consumers (US Census Bureau). Other findings showed that “about one in six current cigarette smokers (15.9%) and nearly one in four recent former cigarette smokers (22%) currently used e-cigarettes.”
Many people think of vaping as a way to transition from traditional cigarette smoking to quitting. People also like to vape because they can smoke indoors, without having to deal with the odor of traditional cigarettes. A 2015 poll from Reuters showed that “75% of people who use electronic cigarettes or other vaporizing devices continue to smoke traditional tobacco products” with 15% of US adults under the age of 40 vaping. According to this poll, “80% of respondents identified vaping as a good way to help people quit smoking.”
Because vaping is fairly new, what do we know about its consequences on our overall health?
Vaping & E-Cigarettes May Harm Your Hearing
According to Scientific American, Americans are smoking less: “While more than 40 percent of Americans smoked in 1965, only about 18 percent did in 2012. However, given that our population grew over time, the net drop in American smokers – 1965’s 50 million smokers versus 2012’s 42 million – is only 8 million.”
In part, the US government’s campaigns to educate the public on the harmful effects of smoking worked. But what about electronic cigarettes? Compared to traditional cigarettes, Scientific American tells us that while “vaping is almost certainly less dangerous to your health,” there are chemicals that could harm us. Nicotine is found in vaping, which could contribute to heart disease. Other chemicals such as formaldehyde, nitrosamines, and lead have been linked to cancer, while silicate particles in e-cigs could cause lung cancer.
And, as with traditional cigarettes, the chemicals introduced to your body with vaping may harm your inner ear hair cells. These cells are responsible for translating sounds into neural signals that are registered by your brain. The chemicals found in vaping could potentially damage these cells, which do not regenerate. The death of inner ear hair cells leads to sensorineural hearing loss, which is permanent.
Comprehensive Ear and Hearing
Have you experienced changes to your hearing abilities? At Comprehensive Ear and Hearing, we provide comprehensive hearing tests and consultations. Whether or not you are a smoker, good hearing health requires an annual exam. Contact us today.