Understanding E-Cigarette Health Risks: Debunking the Fad

When teens head back to school this fall, there might be more than books and pencils in their backpacks. Smoking alternatives, like vaping devices and electronic cigarettes, are more popular than ever with young people. And despite what marketers would like us to believe, e-cigarettes aren’t any safer than traditional cigarettes. Here’s what every parent should know about these devices and e-cigarette health risks.

Increasingly Popular

According to the Centers for Disease Control, teens and young adults are using electronic nicotine delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes, vape pens, e-hookahs and similar devices, more frequently. In fact, in 2014, e-cigarettes overtook conventional cigarettes as the most commonly used tobacco product among youth. In 2015, 5.3 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days — an increase from 0.6 percent in 2011. And 16 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days — an increase from 1.5 percent in 2011.

Some e-cigarette devices so closely resemble computer flash drives that some schools have had to ban the latter to keep kids from sneaking e-cigarettes into class. Another reason these devices are popular is because the nicotine cartridges, called “pods,” come in different flavors — including mango, creme brulee and mint — and because their packaging features colorful decals.

Not Safer Than Cigarettes

E-cigarette devices are battery-powered, and they contain a liquid solution that vaporizes when heated. Users inhale this vapor like they would cigarette smoke, and manufacturers claim that the vapor fulfills the psychological and physical pleasures of smoking without any of the smoke, smell, carbon monoxide, carcinogens and tar. But e-cigarettes aren’t benign.

They’re not nicotine-free. Most e-cigarette varieties contain nicotine, and inhalation of vaporized nicotine delivers the drug to the brain very efficiently. In fact, one pod delivers about as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. Nicotine in any form temporarily spikes a user’s blood pressure and heart rate and constricts blood vessels, making e-cigarettes just as addictive and just as harmful to your cardiovascular system as traditional cigarettes. And the Surgeon General’s office says that nicotine use can also prime the adolescent brain for addiction to other drugs, such as cocaine.

They still contain harmful chemicals. Cigarette smoke has been shown to contain some 4,000 different toxic chemicals, and proponents believe that e-cigarettes are healthier smoking alternatives because they produce vapor instead of smoke. But research has shown that some brands of e-cigarette contain carcinogens and other harmful chemicals, such as diethylene glycol and N-nitrosamines. In fact, the vapor produced by e-cigarettes contains even more formaldehyde than traditional cigarettes.

They’re a gateway to addiction and disease. In early 2018, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy classified e-cigarette use by children and young adults as a major public health concern. Young people who have never smoked are more likely to try e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes, the CDC says, and that puts them at a high risk of becoming adult smokers. What’s more, vaping can cause asthma and aggravate allergies. And although the long-term effects of e-cigarettes in young adults are still being studied, it is well-known that smokers with chronic bronchitis develop permanent lung damage later in life.

If you’re concerned about your or your teen’s use of e-cigarette devices or traditional cigarettes, or if you want to know more about e-cigarette health risks, talk to a Lahey Health provider about how we can help you quit.


*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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