Even with commercialization, importation and advertising banned in Brazil by Anvisa since 2009, electronic cigarettes – also known as vapes, pods, e-cigarettes, e-pipes, e-ciggys, among other names – have continued to be found in for sale without further ado. problems in the country. With this irregular trade in mind, last July the Ministry of Justice toughened its stance and ordered 33 companies to immediately stop selling products in the national territory. The measure aims to put an end to the consumption of these foods, which, contrary to the opinion of many, can seriously harm health.
According to the accredited pulmonologist at Paraná Clínicas, a company of the SulAmérica group, Dr. Rafael Klas da Rocha Leal (CRM-PR: 37.291, RQE 21.635), the theories spread by many proponents of electronic cigarettes that this habit is less harmful to health than traditional smoking are not correct: “ They are as harmful as, maybe even more. Vapes also contain several substances that are harmful to the body, some of which are carcinogenic. There is no safe dose for their consumption, and since they contain nicotine, they also lead to chemical addiction,” he explains.
The consumption of electronic cigarettes is associated with the development of a number of diseases, mainly neurological and cardiovascular disorders – such as heart attacks, for example – and respiratory diseases such as emphysema and lung cancer. Cases are so common that the medical community has even created a special term to classify illnesses associated with the use of this type of product: EVALI, an acronym for “E-cigarette or Vaping Product-Associated Lung Disease.” Rocha Leal explains how challenging the scenario is: “It’s hard to fight electronic cigarettes because they’re so easy to use. It is better tolerated in many environments because it has no smell, which generally makes it easier to consume compared to traditional tobacco. The resistance of electronic cigarettes also tends to be longer, which brings more harmful particles into the lungs and facilitates their absorption into the bloodstream,” he explains.
Even theoretically prohibited, the consumption of this type of product in Brazil is common and has dangerously intensified, especially among young people. Data from the 2019 National School Health Survey (PeNSE) showed that 13.6% of adolescent students aged 13 to 15 had already tried e-cigarettes. That percentage jumps to 22.7% among 16 and 17-year-olds. According to Rocha Leal, such growth is not accidental: “Vapes are very attractive among young people. Although sales here have been banned for years, the cigarette industry has created electronic devices that use technology and innovation to attract a younger audience. This strategy and the ease of finding these products, especially on the Internet, made their consumption grow among young people,” he says.
With the new decision of the Ministry of Justice, access to this type of product is expected to be effectively banned in Brazil, as foreseen by the 2009 Anvisa decision.
The consumption of tobacco and its derivatives has fallen in Brazil in recent years, but it is still a serious public health problem. More recent data from the National Health Survey (PNS) show that the percentage of tobacco users was 12.8% in 2019. In 2013, the prevalence of smoking was 14.9%. Although these figures indicate a systematic decline in the number of smokers in the country, the impact of patients with diseases related to tobacco consumption remains high for the Brazilian health system: a 2020 study by the Institute for Clinical and Sanitary Efficiency (IECS) estimates that diseases caused by smoking cost the country approx. 125 billion R$ per year.
Although smoking is a secular habit, the concern is far from unwarranted: cigarettes contain more than 4,700 substances, many of which are harmful to health, in addition to the addictive nicotine. Among the harmful chemical elements are carbon monoxide, the same substance emitted by car exhaust, as well as plutonium, formaldehyde, pesticides and heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and cadmium.
Doctor. Rafael Klas da Rocha Leal explains the importance of awareness campaigns on this topic: “There are no products or versions of tobacco that are safe. All of them, without exception, are harmful to health: traditional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, straw cigarettes, rolling tobacco, cigars, pipes, hookahs, among others. There is no safe dose for the consumption of any of these products, and they are all associated with addiction and the development of diseases,” he concludes.