Vaping is gaining increased popularity among young people. Many people have the mistaken impression that vaping is safe compared to smoking cigarettes. Battery powered ‘e-cigarettes’ and ‘vapes’ atomize liquid nicotine by applying heat but without the harmful, oxidative effects of burning.
The use of e-cigarettes rose from 1.5% to 16% among high school students and from 0.6% to 5.3% in middle school students between 2011 and 2015. A 2018 study showed that vaping among teenagers has risen to “record” levels. High school seniors had the sharpest increase with more than 37% reporting vaping within the last 12 months. Usage among high school sophomores rose to 32% in 2018 and vaping among eighth-graders rose to 17.6%.
At a news conference in December of 2018, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams officially declared e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic:
In addition to health concerns about vaping, the practice has had some unintended consequences locally. The Safford Middle School reportedly cancelled baseball due to vaping on the team. Several local high school athletes have been kicked off their teams for vaping.
Health Effects of Vaping
A growing body of research indicates that vaping may lead to negative health consequences, including:
- Damage to the brain, heart and lungs
- Cancerous tumor development
- Preterm deliveries and stillbirths in pregnant women
- Harmful effects on brain and lung development, when use occurs during fetal development or adolescence.
Vaping products contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug with known health risks. Nicotine is at least as difficult to give up as heroin.
Side Effects of Nicotine
Nicotine causes a wide range of side effects in most organs and body systems.
The circulation of the blood can be affected in the following ways:
- An increased clotting tendency, leading to a risk of harmful blood clots
- Atherosclerosis, in which plaque forms on the artery wall
- Enlargement of the aorta
Side effects in the brain include:
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Irregular and disturbed sleep
- Bad dreams and nightmares
- Possible blood restriction
In the gastrointestinal system, nicotine can have the following effects:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth, or xerostomia
- Peptic ulcers
The heart can experience the following after taking in nicotine:
- Changes in heart rate and rhythm
- Increased blood pressure
- Constrictions and diseases of the coronary artery
- An increased risk of stroke
If a woman smokes while pregnant, the following risks are likely in the development of the child:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Respiratory difficulties
- Problems with brain development
- Behavioral issues
Other effects of nicotine include:
- Spasms in the lungs
- Tremors and pain in the muscles
- Increased levels of insulin and insulin resistance, contributing to the risk of diabetes
In January 2018 the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine presented 47 conclusions related to health effects of e-cigarettes. Among the conclusions, the study found:
- There is conclusive evidence that in addition to nicotine, most e-cigarette products contain and emit numerous potentially toxic substances.
- There is conclusive evidence that other than nicotine, the number, quantity, and characteristics of potentially toxic substances emitted from e-cigarettes are highly variable and depend on product characteristics (including device and e-liquid characteristics) and how the device is operated.
- There is conclusive evidence that e-cigarette devices can explode and cause burns and projectile injuries. Such risk is significantly increased when batteries are of poor quality, stored improperly, or modified by users.
- There is conclusive evidence that intentional or accidental exposure to e-liquids (from drinking, eye contact, or dermal contact) can result in adverse health effects including but not limited to seizures, anoxic brain injury, vomiting, and lactic acidosis.
- There is conclusive evidence that intentionally or unintentionally drinking or injecting e-liquids can be fatal.
- There is substantial evidence that e-cigarette aerosol contains metals. The origin of the metals could be the metallic coil used to heat the e-liquid, other parts of the e-cigarette device, or e-liquids. Product characteristics and use patterns may contribute to differences in the actual metals and metal concentrations measured in e-cigarette aerosol.
- There is substantial evidence that e-cigarette aerosols can induce acute endothelial cell dysfunction, although the long-term consequences and outcomes on these parameters with long-term exposure to e-cigarette aerosol are uncertain.
- There is substantial evidence that heart rate increases shortly after nicotine intake from e-cigarettes.
- There is substantial evidence that some chemicals present in e-cigarette aerosols (e.g., formaldehyde, acrolein) are capable of causing DNA damage and mutagenesis. This supports the biological plausibility that long-term exposure to e-cigarette aerosols could increase risk of cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes. Whether or not the levels of exposure are high enough to contribute to human carcinogenesis remains to be determined.
E-cigarettes and brain development
Nicotine exposure during adolescence, a critical period for brain development, can cause addiction and can harm the developing brain. This video underscores the health risks for teens:
Read more: https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/
Teens say they’re attracted to the flavoring
High school seniors who reported vaping “just flavoring” increased to 25.7 percent from 20.6 percent in 2017, according to a Dec. 17 press release from the National Institutes of Health. Among 10th-graders, that percentage rose to 24.7 from 19.3. “However, it is unclear if teens know what is in the vaping devices they are using, since the most popular devices do not have nicotine-free options, and some labeling has been shown to be inaccurate,” the release states.
“Teens are clearly attracted to the marketable technology and flavorings seen in vaping devices,” Nora D. Volkow, National Institute on Drug Abuse director, said in the release. “However, it is urgent that teens understand the possible effects of vaping on overall health, the development of the teen brain and the potential for addiction.
“Research tells us that teens who vape may be at risk for transitioning to regular cigarettes, so while we have celebrated our success in lowering their rates of tobacco use in recent years, we must continue aggressive educational efforts on all products containing nicotine.”
Safety concerns about vape devices
E-cigarettes and other vaping devices are still largely unregulated. The FDA announced in July 2017 that it plans to come up with product standards to prevent battery explosions. But those standards are still under development.
Earlier this year and exploding vape killed a 24-year-old Texas man named William Brown. Shattered fragments from the vape device sliced open a blood vessel in Brown’s neck that delivers blood to the brain and he died at the hospital on January 29, 2019
What’s the bottom line?
For long-term cigarette smokers who haven’t been able to cut back or stop smoking using approved cessation methods, e-cigarettes and other vaping devices products appear to be a safer alternative than continuing cigarette smoking, even if they do not help you reduce your nicotine intake. However, if you do not smoke or use other forms of tobacco or nicotine, steer clear of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. The potential risks to your long-term health outweigh any enjoyment in the moment.