E-cigarettes: There goes your health, up in smoke (and vapor)

You know the old saying: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Increasing evidence shows this applies to the new trend of e-cigarettes and vaping and their claim as a safe alternative to traditional tobacco smoking. Known collectively as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-hookah, personal vaporizers, vape pens and vaping devices are the most widely used tobacco products by high school and middle school students. Their use has increased 890% since 2011. According to the Youth Tobacco Survey, from 2011 to 2013, use of any ENDS rose from 1.3% to 3% by middle school students and from 4.7% to 11.9% by high school students. Other surveys show use by high school students as high as 29%.

This is alarming because ENDS are not harmless products. They contain nicotine, which is both highly addictive and toxic. Due to the fact that the brains of adolescents are still developing, they are more susceptible to the effect of nicotine. This means they get addicted quicker and suffer worse effects, to include cell damage that results in immediate and persistent changes in function. The FDA does not yet regulate ENDS so the nicotine-containing liquid used in them varies widely in its concentration and potency. Liquid nicotine is extremely toxic in even small amounts–if swallowed, half a teaspoon is enough to fatally poison a toddler.

In addition to the danger of nicotine, the aerosol inhaled by users contains additional carcinogens (i.e. substances capable of causing cancer) and chemical irritants such as formaldehyde, nitrosamines and propylene glycol. While these chemicals may have a useful place in biology class, rubber products and antifreeze, they are simply destructive to your lungs. Just like traditional tobacco smoke, secondhand ENDS vapor has been shown to be harmful to lung development and function.

The health risks of ENDS use are increased by the fact that they are widely (but incorrectly) perceived as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes.They come in various flavors to include vanilla, chocolate, a variety of fruit flavors and bubble gum, all of which are attractive to youth. The systems and liquid are available online and, because no national law governs the use of ENDS, in some states adolescents are able to purchase them in stores or mall kiosks. The packaging of the nicotine-containing liquid is not currently required to be child-safe despite its known toxicity.

The e-cigarette and vaping phenomenon started as an alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes and cigars. While it is true that ENDS do not contain tar or produce smoke, both of which are well-known for their health consequences, it is not true that ENDS are, therefore, safe or without negative impact on your health. It was postulated that ENDS might be a way to help smokers quit smoking or, at least, switch to a less harmful inhaling and puffing experience. Unfortunately, evidence is emerging that instead of helping smokers quit, ENDS are encouraging non-smoking youth to start puffing away their health.

“Tobacco is unique among consumer products in that it severely injures and kills when used exactly as intended,” states the AAP policy statement, “Public Policy to Protect Children From Tobacco, Nicotine, and Tobacco Smoke.” “Protecting children from tobacco products is one of the most important things that a society can do to protect children’s health.”

To see the full AAP policy statement: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2015/10/21/peds.2015-3222.full.pdf+html