Image Credit: CDC.gov
Relatively unknown just a decade ago, vaping and e-cigarette technology has come a long way in recent years. You may have seen electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and vaping devices in stores, in advertisements, or being used. The sale of vaping supplies to minors under age 18 is banned across the country. However, teens have no trouble buying the stuff online, and teen vaping is a dangerous fad.
A popular type of vaping device, called pod mods, look like USB drives and can even be charged via a laptop or USB port. The JUUL brand is widely used for teen vaping because of its fun fruity flavors, small size, stylish design, and discreet resemblance to a flash drive. When using a JUUL, it is often referred to as JUULing. But no matter what you call it, all forms of e-cigarette use are unsafe for young people.
Nicotine: An Addictive Drug
Originally created for smokers to wean themselves off cigarettes, e-cigarettes are sophisticated mechanical devices designed to deliver the same nicotine additive found in tobacco cigarettes, without the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. Since 2007, these products have helped an estimated three million Americans quit smoking.
Technically, e-cigarettes and vaping are basically the same because neither product produces tobacco smoke; but, rather, an aerosol consisting of fine particles. Still, any of these products can contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug. Teens who vape may not realize that “nicotine is more addictive than heroin and cocaine” (WebMD).
Sarper Taskiran, MD, a psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute, said one problem with teen vaping is that teens hear it’s not as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes and may think there is no harm. “They really think that they are mostly flavors and that they are inhaling a pleasant gas,” says Dr. Taskiran.
Because many teens have the mistaken perception that vaping is safe, teens who never have smoked can become hooked on nicotine. Studies show vaping actually increases the risk that teens will use tobacco and cigarettes in the future. Sounds like a tobacco industry conspiracy!
Did you know…?
- Vaping delivers nicotine to the brain in as little as ten seconds.
- Nicotine exposure during the teen years can disrupt normal brain development.
- A single JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.
- Some vapes that claim they are nicotine-free are not!
We’re just now learning the truth about additional health risks associated with teen vaping. Although e-cigarette vapor may be less hazardous than tobacco smoke, e-cigarette aerosol is NOT just harmless water vapor.
“E-cigarettes are unregulated, which means that we don’t know what’s in them,” said Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “And, of great concern to me, is that in the midst of all these illnesses being reported, the amount of young people using them is significant.”
Since the US doesn’t regulate vaping, there are a multitude of vape products on the market with different flavorings and additives (ingredients that are rarely ever listed), along with carrier oils. Even nicotine-free vapes can contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, and acetoin – as well as toxic metal particles like nickel, tin, and lead.
You’d have to be high to not grasp the fact that inhaling vapors from burning petroleum-based oils could be unhealthy. Indeed, a recent study found that e-cigarette vapor contains significantly increased levels of volatile organic compounds – many of which are carcinogenic.
You should also use caution if any of your friends vape. Like second-hand smoke, just breathing the cloud of vapors that others exhale can expose you to nicotine and other chemicals. You shouldn’t be inhaling anything into your lungs except pure air!
Vaping Deaths and Casualties
As of October 1, 2019, the CDC has confirmed 18 known deaths related to vaping in the US so far — two in California, two in Kansas, two in Oregon, and one each in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Virginia. That’s out of 1000+ cases of lung injuries related to e-cigarettes in at least 48 states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC has analyzed 771 cases and determined that 62% (two-thirds) of people with severe lung illnesses are 18 to 34 years old, with 22% between 18-21, and 16% are under 18. The majority, 69%, are male. It is not clear which substances or compounds in the vaping products are leading to harm. Most patients report a history of vaping THC, an illegal drug, although some have reported using e-cigarette products containing only nicotine.
People who are getting sick typically have a cough, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and chest pain. Some people vomit, have abdominal pain, diarrhea and a fever. These worsen over time. If you feel sick and have been vaping, make sure you go see a doctor right away.
One patient, Adam Hergenreder, 18, of Gurnee, Illinois, who was hospitalized with a severe vaping-related respiratory illness in August, said his doctor told him that he has the lungs of a 70-year-old. “It’s terrifying to think about,” Hergenreder told NPR.
“Everyone should recognize that vaping is not without potential risks, including life-threatening risks,” warned Brandon T. Larsen, MD, PhD, a surgical pathologist at the Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, Arizona, and a national expert in lung pathology.
Dr. Larsen stated in a news release that the cause “seems to be some kind of direct chemical injury, similar to what one might see with exposures to toxic chemical fumes, poisonous gases and toxic agents.” However, the noxious agents responsible remain unknown.
Proceed with Caution
The CDC stated that stopping teen vaping is one of their priorities. In addition, it is urging all Americans not to buy or use black-market products, and cautioned that it expects to see “hundreds more” vaping-linked illnesses.
JUUL says it has stopped store sales of products with flavors other than tobacco and menthol, ended promotions on Facebook and Instagram, and enhanced online age verification in an effort to keep its products out of children’s hands.
John F. Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City, California, will install vape detectors in eight restrooms, to alert school administrators when any vaping is detected.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has announced plans to ban sales of flavored e-cigarettes, and several states have enacted legislation restricting sales of flavored e-cigarettes. The city of San Francisco said they will ban all e-cigarette sales.
So, because teens, who are already prohibited from purchasing vapes, have resorted to the black market, we must ban adults from being able to purchase these products. This might push more people back to smoking tobacco, which, coincidentally, is at an all-time low.
Like smoking, vaping is hazardous to your health. As Dr. Larsen said, “It would seem prudent based on our observations to explore ways to better regulate the industry and better educate the public, especially our youth, about the risks associated with vaping.”
Resources for Students
Check out the science about e-cigarettes and young people: https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov
The CDC has a page of Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young-Adults
Scholastic has developed an infographic, lesson, and research activity to educate students in grades 9-12 on the health risks of vaping: http://www.scholastic.com/youthvapingrisks