Guest post from the staff at the American Lung Association, a proud StayWell partner

A new generation is at risk for irreversible lung damage due to the popularity of e-cigarettes, which have been around for more than a decade and show no signs of disappearing. Whether drawn to the fruity flavor cartridges or trying to cut down on regular cigarette smoking, many people believe e-cigarettes (or vaping) is harmless and simply not addictive.

While more research is needed on the long-term effects, there is enough evidence showcasing the immediate negative health risks using e-cigarette brings, especially for young people.

What are e-cigarettes?

They go by a variety of different names—hookahs, Juuls, pens, mods, vapesbut all have the same purpose no matter the shape or size. Collectively known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), e-cigarettes allow users to inhale an aerosol containing nicotine or other substances. E-cigarettes are typically battery-operated and use a heating element to heat e-liquid from a refillable charger or pod.

One appeal of e-cigarettes are the flavors that are added to those pods. However, according to a study by the American Heart Association, these flavors are accompanied by other chemicals and toxins that can damage blood vessels and the heart, in addition to the usual effects of nicotine. A single Juul pod, one of the more popular brands marketed today, contains as much nicotine as a 20-pack of regular cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are also made to look like regular tobacco products or may resemble pens, USB sticks, and other everyday items. Given their elusive casing, it makes them easy to conceal, allowing teens to use them at home and in schools.

The effects of vaping

Some argue e-cigarettes are a safer form of smoking or a method to use when trying to quit smoking. The CDC, Surgeon General’s office, public health groups, and others have disputed these claims.

E-cigarettes bring harmful and sometimes unknown chemicals into the body and bloodstream. These cancer-causing agents reach deep into the lungs and irritate the bronchi, causing an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. When tested, aldehydes, traces of metal, diacetyl, and other carcinogens responsible for playing a role in lung and oral cancers were present in e-cigarettes.

Vapor inhaled can also cause inflammations in the mouth, eventually leading to gum disease. Additionally, vaping has been proven to destroy the mitochondria used in wound healing, over time causing what is known as “smoker’s cough.”

And it bears repeating that e-cigarettes contain nicotine, bringing well-known effects beyond addiction. Nicotine exposure damages adolescent brain development (learning, attention, impulse control), which does not end until the mid-20s. It also contributes to the hardening of arterial walls and can lead to cardiac events.

Studies to date

E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco products among youth, particularly in the United States. The FDA reported earlier this year that more than 1 million high school students use e-cigarettes now than compared to 2017, and teen e-cigarette use has skyrocketed by nearly 80%. Additionally, the CDC reports nearly 38% of all high school and 13% of all middle school students have tried vaping at least once.

Other risks that have been documented:

  • In 2018, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students said they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days
  • The National Academy of Medicine reports there is some evidence that e-cigarette use increases the frequency and amount of traditional cigarette smoking
  • Defective e-cigarette batteries have caused some fires and explosions, resulting in at least two reported deaths and several others who have been injured or burned
  • Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes

The Surgeon General emphasizes e-cigarette use among youths is a significant public health concern and steps must be taken by parents, educators, and policymakers to discourage use of e-cigarettes. Get more information and resources from the American Lung Association for parents, schools, and teens.

This content was originally published on the ALA website.

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