E-cigarettes and teen risks become more evident as teens, young adults, and even children are showing the danger signs of using these e-cigarettes in all their various forms.
What are e-cigarettes?
An e-cigarette comes in many forms, but all have a battery that heats a liquid that turns into an aerosol containing nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. Like regular cigarettes, users inhale everything that is in the device and also affect others with the aerosol, much like second-hand smoke.
Not only do they contain nicotine, they can also be filled with marijuana or other drugs. The aerosol flavoring may contain diacetyl, linked to serious lung disease. In addition, the aerosol may contain cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals – lead, nickel, tin – and ultrafine particles that can penetrate deeply into the lungs. E-cigarette aerosol is NOT harmless “water vapor.”
While packaging may claim there is no nicotine, that has proven wrong in many cases.
The many forms of e-cigarettes
While they began appearing somewhat larger than a traditional cigarette, they have morphed into a variety of shapes. JUUL is the top-selling e-cigarette and often appears as a USB flash drive. One JUUL pod has the equivalent of a 20-pack of cigarettes! Because of their easily hidden size, they are students’ favorite device. JUUL is not the only one with this USB design, however. Others include MarkTen Elite for nicotine, and PAX Era, which delivers marijuana.
Besides the USB form, e-cigarettes can look like pens, pipes, cigars, or even regular cigarettes. They have their own vocabulary as well, they may be called “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” ‘vape pens,” “vapes,” “tank systems,” and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).” No matter the name or clever packaging, they are unsafe.
Why is vaping unsafe?
Vaping is now linked to lung diseases in as many as 50 people in at least six states. No deaths are reported – yet – but several have been close calls. One of the most recent is a teen in Texas who contracted a lung disease after vaping. A New York doctor saw two cases this summer, including an athletic 18-year-old who almost died. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has encountered a number of severe lung problems in Texas young people recently. These patients were e-cigarette users, so the agency is looking into possible causes within or in addition to the vaping. They issued an alert to health care providers and clinicians to watch for symptoms and gather information.
A partial list of reasons the vaping liquid, and the device itself, can be harmful:
- Long-ranging studies have proven the harmful effects of nicotine. This is especially true for developing brains. These changes actually affect the way a brain functions in attention and impulse control. Like nicotine from regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes can increase addiction to nicotine and possibly lead to addiction to other, even more harmful, drugs.
- Aerosol ingredients
- Some flavorings may be safe to eat because they’re processed through digestion. Inhaling, however, is a different process and lungs are not geared for inhaling these chemical flavorings. Because of this, scientists believe lungs could be harmed.
- There have been a number of instances where defective batteries led to serious injuries through fires or explosions.
- Health effects
- Scientists still do not know the full effects of e-cigarettes over time, but studies to date indicate harmful effects are likely.
How to prevent or stop the use of e-cigarettes
In Texas, the legislature is considering raising the minimum age to purchase or consume tobacco products from 18 to 21. This would include all e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. The mission of this bill is to prevent future smokers since 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21.
While vaping devices appeared to some people as an innocent way to avoid the dangers of cigarette smoking, it is now known that it may actually introduce young people to smoking and may have the same unhealthful effects – or even more – as scientists investigate the repercussions on these youthful users.
The CDC has a number of suggestions that parents can use for having a discussion with your teen, including this Tip Sheet. An ongoing conversation can make a difference. While it may not be well-received, stopping an e-cigarette user before they’re addicted is worth the persistence.