Dangers of Vaping
Just as cigarette smoking drops to its lowest level in years, e-cigarette use, a.k.a. “vaping,” is exploding among middle and high school students. Teens may blow off the trend as harmless, but experts think otherwise.
“It’s important to understand that this is a drug delivery system. In some ways, calling it ‘vaping’ almost makes it sound benign and not dangerous,” says medical toxicologist Dr. Stephen Thornton, an emergency room physician and medical director of the University of Kansas Health System Poison Control Center.
What are e-cigarettes? Initially marketed as smoking cessation devices, e-cigarettes are electronic nicotine delivery systems that use lithium-ion battery operated devices to heat up and vaporize a flavored, liquid solution called e-juice. The user then inhales the vaporized solution.
What’s in the e-juice? The e-juice usually contains nicotine extract, which is mixed with propylene glycol (typically used in inhalers), and flavorings, like mint, Fruit Loops, gummy bears and passion fruit.
Because solutions currently aren’t regulated by the FDA, buyers have no way of knowing how much nicotine is in a product, including those that claim to contain zero nicotine.
“Right now many manufacturers are putting whatever they want in it, including potentially harmful chemicals,” says Jamie Katz, prevention coordinator, Johnson County Mental Health.
What are the risks? Chemicals found in e-cigarette vapor include aldehydes (formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein and acetone); diacetyl, a highly toxic chemical linked to lung disease; volatile organic compounds found in car exhaust; and heavy metals like nickel, lead and chromium.
“Unfortunately, we still need more time to know exactly what kind of short- or long-term problems you’re going to get from exposure to these chemicals,” Thornton says. “Some products are probably safe if you eat or drink them, but once you start inhaling them into the lungs and you start vaporizing them, it changes the dynamics.”
In the short term, users may be more prone to viral infections in the lungs and asthmatic types of reactions. Hospitals are also treating more people with traumatic injuries related to the devices exploding in their faces or in their pockets.
“I don’t think people appreciate how much power is in the devices in order to get the heat that vaporizes the solution,” Thornton says. “If you think about it, you’re holding up a grenade to your face, and if it goes off, that’s going to be a very bad story.”
What’s the appeal? According to Katz, kids think vaping is cool, healthier than smoking cigarettes and a stress reliever.
Leaving no odors other than a light, fruity scent, e-cigarettes are easy to conceal in a pocket or purse. They often resemble pens or USB flash drives, like JUUL, which is especially popular among kids.
Then, there’s the celebrity effect. “An adolescent sees celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Katherine Heigl using these products openly in public and there’s that diminished sense that it’s a harmful product,” says Kevin Kufeldt, program manager, Adolescent Center for Treatment, Johnson County Mental Health.
Vape “cloud chasing” competitions featured online, in which people blow clouds and do tricks with e-cigarettes, add to the attraction.
Creating a new generation of addicts? Tantalizing candy flavored solutions and labels like Unicorn Milk, Cotton Candy and Zombie Juice target e-cig users, and many experts believe that e-cig marketers are specifically targeting kids.
“I doubt there’s a 45-year-old guy out there who says, ‘Man, I really need to have my spearmint bubble gum vape today,’” Thornton says.
A JUUL pod contains 59 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of liquid, which the manufacturer says is equivalent to the amount of nicotine in a pack of cigarettes.
“On a milligram per milligram basis, nicotine is 10 times more potent than heroin,” Kufeldt says. “Kids will tell me they think they actually smoke more with e-cigarettes than with a traditional cigarette because they can use more often throughout the day.”
Research suggests that teens who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes later. Many users also vape substances like synthetic cannabinoids, fentanyl, Xanax and marijuana.
Talk to your kids. Promote a healthy lifestyle, discuss the harmful effects of addictive substances on the body and talk about healthier ways to manage stress.
“Parents can influence their kids’ decision to vape,” Katz says. “Talk to your children about your expectations and why you don’t want them to use e-cigarettes. You can expect them to live tobacco free.”
Globally, which two drugs claim the most lives?
Answers: C and D
What is the average age kids first try addictive substances?
Answer: 12 years
The legal age to purchase e-cigs is 21. How are kids obtaining the products?
D.) All of the above
Christa Melnyk Hines is a nationally published freelance journalist and author. She resides in Olathe with her husband and two sons. Her latest book is Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.