Electronic cigarettes are devices that vaporize a liquid which the user then inhales. E-cigarette use has rapidly increased among teens. While the use of conventional cigarettes has been steadily dropping, the use of vaping devices has dramatically increased. Most vaping products contain nicotine, with a concentration far higher than in a conventional cigarette. As a result, it is very easy for teens and adults to become addicted to vaping. Nicotine is especially harmful to teens, young adults and pregnant women. Nicotine affects the brain’s reward system as well as brain circuits that control attention and learning. Many teens do not realize that there is nicotine in vaping products; they assume it is just flavored liquid and that it is safe. The multitude of flavors which have been marketed has led to increasing use of vaping devices by teens. It is estimated that 20% or more of high school students are vaping. Further, teens who are introduced to nicotine by vaping often go on to smoke conventional cigarettes. There are no known benefits for teens and children from nicotine. Unfortunately, e-cigarettes have addicted a new generation to nicotine at a time when cigarette use had reached an all-time low among adolescents.
The idea for e-cigarettes started in 1930 but it took many years for the product to be developed. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that vaping devices became popular in the US. These devices consist of 4 parts: the cartridge, reservoir or pod which holds the liquid solution, a heating element, a power source and a mouthpiece. The liquid that is vaporized may contain nicotine, flavorings, marijuana, and other chemicals. While early products resembled conventional cigarettes, recent designs are far more diverse and resemble common items such as pens, flash drives, bracelets, watches, shoe laces, and flashlights.
In June 2019, an outbreak of lung disease, called EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury) was linked to vaping. The incidence of disease peaked in September and has been declining since then. It is now clear that most affected people were vaping tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana) products which contained vitamin E acetate. As of December 27, 2019, a total of 2,561 hospitalized EVALI cases and 55 deaths had been reported to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The long term effects of EVALI are unknown. Likewise, long term effects of inhaling other chemicals remain unknown.
Talk to your children about vaping. Be sure they are aware that most vaping liquids contain nicotine which is an addicting substance. If you are currently using vaping devices, set an example for your children by quitting. Ask your physician for help; there are a variety of products to help smokers quit. Clearly the best prevention is not to start smoking or vaping. For more information, visit the websites and reference materials below.
For more information on vaping, please see the following resources:
5. Jenssen BP, Walley SC, Section on Tobacco Control. E-Cigarettes and similar devices. Pediatrics. 2019;143(2):e20183652