According to most recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) studies, 27.5% of high school students are using e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes first arrived on the scene in 2003 but the use has increased over the last 10 years and now these companies are targeting younger children and adolescents by making more candy flavors and making the designs of these e-cigarettes more attractive to teens. So what is the harm of e-cigarettes and how are they different from traditional cigarettes?
There are different types of e-cigarettes such as jules, vapes, hookahs, mechanical mods, and pod systems. Some look like flash drives while others look like pens or cigarettes. This makes them easy to conceal. What physicians are starting to see are any combination of seizures, vomiting, sweating, dizziness, increased heart rate, lethargy, and difficulty breathing associated with vape use.
Cigarettes contain carcinogens that over years can cause lung cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among other things after years or decades of use. On the other hand, vaping devices contain flavored chemicals that is causing young adults lungs to look like “70 year old lungs.”
These chemicals in the vaping devices act as tiny, microscopic bullets that tear small holes in the linings of the lungs. Just in the summer of 2019, the AAP reports 251 “mysterious, life-threatening vaping-related illnesses” that are showing up in hospitals as otherwise healthy teens or young adults with severe shortness of breath, vomiting, fever, and fatigue. In many of these cases, the teens lungs shut down quickly to where they require ventilation support in the intensive care unit. Physicians are perplexed at first and have found that these have all been linked to recent vaping use.
It took decades to determine that cigarettes were harmful to the body. When e-cigarettes were first being sold, it was marketed as a safe way to stop one’s smoking addiction. We are now learning that not only are the chemicals dangerous, but these devices also contain nicotine so have an equally addictive quality as traditional cigarettes. Newer studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) indicate that teens who vape are more likely to use tobacco products in the future due to the nicotine exposure.
So parents, be diligent and talk to your teen and loved ones about the harms of vaping and along with other recreational drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. And teenagers, if you are suddenly having chest pains and breathing problems, be upfront with your doctor about any vaping use – because that information could make all the difference in getting you better!
Jennifer Adair, M.D., was born and raised in Mobile. She joined Children’s Medical Group in July 2013 and currently practices at their Airport office. Jennifer and her husband, Cory, reside in Mobile with their son, Finn, and their three dogs, Barkley, Fitz, and Roo.