Though modern electronic cigarettes have been around for the last decade or so, they have recently become increasingly popular with adolescents from middle school to college. Also known as JUULs and vape pens, e-cigarettes may seem less harmful than traditional cigarettes, but as time goes on, evidence is evolving about the true health risks of “vaping.”
What exactly is an e-cigarette?
E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that deliver nicotine through a refillable e-liquid or disposable cartridge which turns into vapor during use. Their various e-liquid flavors, ease of availability and the misguided belief that they are safer than traditional cigarettes make them an appealing choice to users.
What are the health consequences of e-cigarette usage?
Health concerns surrounding e-cigarettes include nicotine levels, dangerous chemical ingredients and secondhand emissions.
It can be difficult to determine the exact level of nicotine in an e-cigarette, but any amount is unhealthy as it is an extremely addictive substance. Some claim e-cigarettes are helpful to use when quitting traditional cigarettes, but the Food and Drug Administration has not found this to be a safe or effective way of quitting tobacco.
A study from the University of North Carolina found that two of the primary ingredients in e-cigarettes, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, are toxic to cells. Devices can also produce dangerous chemicals including acetaldehyde, acrolein and formaldehyde. These aldehydes can cause lung disease and cardiovascular disease. Acrolein, another ingredient used in e-cigarettes, is primarily used to kill weeds and can cause acute lung injury.
In 2016, the Surgeon General concluded that secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes are also dangerous. Secondhand emissions can contain nicotine, diacetyl, which is linked to lung disease, and benzene, which is found in car exhaust, and heavy metals like nickel and lead.
Can e-cigarettes impact the future health of adolescents?
Youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to have various health issues and eventually transition to using traditional cigarettes.
Nicotine exposure during adolescence can damage the developing brain, which continues into the early to mid-20s. Neurocognitive processes are not fully developed during this time, which can make teens more susceptible to addiction. E-cigarettes can also contain other harmful ingredients that can cause serious physical health issues in young people.
What can parents do?
The best way for adolescents to learn about the serious health concerns of e-cigarettes is through open communication. Use credible information to discuss with your children, and be willing to listen. Keep the conversation going beyond the initial discussion. Frequent reminders will help keep the topic at the forefront of your and your child’s mind. It’s also important to set a positive example by being tobacco-free.