E-Cigarettes and Vaping: Risky Business
While use of alcohol and tobacco products has decreased, e-cigarettes and vaping have increased in popularity as a way of “smoking” that American youth often perceive as harmless. One in three high school seniors have reported using a vape or e-cigarette in the past year in the annual poll of 45,000 students from 380 public and private secondary schools conducted by the University of Michigan for the 2018 Monitoring the Future Survey.
E-cigarettes range in size, flavor, and ingredients. Traditional e-cigarettes have a distinct cigarette taste. Vapes are small, refillable devices that heat flavored liquid into a vapor or mist. Devices used for vaping can be larger like a refillable lighter or fountain pen, or smaller and more discreet like a thumb drive. Most vape juices do not contain nicotine, but they can contain substances like THC, the chemical found in marijuana.
Many types of substances can be put into a JUUL or e-cigarette. E-juice may contain different combinations and levels of nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin, water and various flavorings. While tobacco in e-cigarettes may not expose users to the same level of chemicals found in regular cigarettes, there are still many potentially cancer-causing chemicals in e-juice flavoring and tiny particles that can reach deep into the lungs. Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes. Some teen vapers report having bleeding gums and are developing what is now known as a “vaper’s cough.” Long-term health effects from frequent use of these types of chemicals are not yet known.
What is known is that e-cigarette and vape manufacturers specifically target youth with a wide variety of sugary vape liquids that include fruity, candy, and breakfast cereal flavors. Varieties named Skittles and Honey Nut Cereal make vaping appealing to young people and help create the illusion that the flavored substances used in vapes are less harmful - a fact confirmed in the Monitoring the Future Survey, which reported that children and teens believe that what they are vaping is “just flavoring.”
This is where the danger comes in. Because e-cigarettes, vapes, and the chemicals in flavorings used in them have not yet been widely studied, there are still many unanswered questions about the potential effects on the heart, lungs and immune system. Further research is needed to identify potential hazards associated with inhaling flavoring agents. Parents need to talk to their teens about the facts to let them know that the safest, healthiest choice is not to start using at all!