E-cigarettes, or vapes, were first developed as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but they have quickly become an on-ramp for nicotine addiction for young people.
Vaping is no longer limited to adults that are trying to quit smoking. Over 4 million high school students and 1 million middle school students report regularly using e-cigarettes. That’s about 1 in every 4 students.
While most people today are informed about the health hazards and risks of cigarette smoking, there are many misconceptions about e-cigarettes and the dangers they pose to a person’s health and wellbeing.
What is Vaping?
Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol produced when using an electronic vapor device. Typically, the ingredients include nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals, many of which are toxic. Some vaping products also contain marijuana or other drugs.
Vapes can come in many different shapes and sizes, but most modern vapes are small. They are designed to resemble everyday objects like USB drives, pens, erasers, or even lipstick. Their size allows them to be easily concealed.
Most vapes include a heating element, a battery, and a place to hold liquid. Some vapes are disposable, while others can be reused by charging the device and refilling the liquid.
This Visual Dictionary by the CDC does a thorough job of explaining the variety of e-cigarettes out there.
What Makes Vaping Dangerous?
Although most liquid substances can be vaped, the most common are flavored e-liquids. These e-liquids come in thousands of tasty, unmistakably child-friendly flavors packed with chemicals that are designed to mask the harsh taste of nicotine.
The aerosol released by e-cigarettes is not harmless water vapor. The vapor contains cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals (such as nickel, tin, and lead), and almost always contains the addictive tobacco-derived compound nicotine.
Nearly all vapes contain highly addictive nicotine and most contain more of it than traditional cigarettes.
A Staggering Amount of Nicotine
Commercial e-liquids contain a staggering amount of nicotine. The most popular brand of e-liquid actually contains as much as twice the amount of nicotine in a pack of cigarettes.
Nicotine increases heart rate, blood pressure, and inflammation, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and asthma. Nicotine exposure in adolescence has also been shown to harm brain development, which continues until age 25, and may also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs.
Taking in high doses of nicotine can also lead to nicotine toxicity. In severe cases, nicotine toxicity can lead to seizures, respiratory failure, coma, and paralysis.
Concerns for Marijuana Vapes
Increasingly, marijuana ingredients and other illicit drug ingredients are being found in vape liquids as well.
The primary substance at the center of investigation is vitamin E. It’s often used as a thickening and delivery agent in e-liquid. And, while it’s safe when taken orally as a supplement or used on the skin, it’s likely an irritant when inhaled. It’s been found in the lungs of people with severe, vaping-related damage.
Other Toxic Chemicals
The other chemicals in vape liquid, including the flavorings, include cancer-causing and other toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and tiny particles that go deep into the lungs. These chemicals can cause lung damage, cell damage and reduce the ability to fight off infections.
“If the liquid has nicotine in it, then the user is inhaling nicotine along with the other ingredients in the liquid,” explains Dr. Thomas Eissenberg, an expert on tobacco research at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“Your lungs aren’t meant to deal with the constant challenge of non-air that people are putting into them—sometimes as many as 200 puffs a day—day after day, week after week, year after year,” Eissenberg says.
“You’re inhaling propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavorants that were meant to be eaten but not inhaled, and nicotine,” he explains. “And all of those are heated up in this little reactor, which is an e-cigarette. When they get heated up, those components can turn into other potentially dangerous chemicals.” (Quotes Retrieved From NIH)
Because of this, vaping can also induce coughing and wheezing, headaches, and vomiting; lead to behavioral and mood changes; and negatively affect attention, learning, and impulse control.
Other common substances found in e-liquid or produced when it’s heated up may also pose a risk to the lungs. These include:
- Diacetyl: This food additive, used to deepen e-cigarette flavors, is known to damage small passageways in the lungs.
- Formaldehyde: This toxic chemical can cause lung disease and contribute to heart disease.
- Acrolein: Most often used as a weed killer, this chemical can also damage lungs
About 1 in every 4 students across middle and high school age admit to having vaped, so if you are a parent, have the vape-talk with your child to ensure they do not join that 25%.
All in all, don’t pick up this habit if you haven’t started. If you vape, we do not bring up these facts to scare you, but truth be told, this is the reality of vaping. It’s not a safe alternative to smoking, but in fact, it comes with its own slew of health problems.
If you are interested in learning more about the dangers of vaping, the following list is a great place to start:
- What Does Vaping Do to Your Lungs? by Johns Hopkins
- 5 Vaping Facts You Need to Know by Johns Hopkins
- About Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes) by the CDC
- Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults by the CDC
- E-Cigarettes, Vapes, and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) by the FDA