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Four E-cigarette Health Risks for Kids

E-cigarette use has become common, but there still seems to be a smoke screen concealing its true impact on health. A growing body of evidence shows that smoking e-cigarettes, or vaping, may be even more dangerous than smoking cigarettes.

An e-cigarette, or vape pen, is an electronic device that heats a pod of liquid, turning it into vapor that contains nicotine, flavorings and other substances. At issue is what chemicals are contained in the liquid that is being vaporized and inhaled, and how they are affecting users — especially teens. More than one in nine high school seniors in the U.S. report vaping daily.

Here are four known health risks.

E-cigarettes contain dangerous chemicals.

While tobacco smoking has long been clearly linked to cancer, the health risks from vaping are just beginning to be understood because e-cigarettes are still unregulated. Here’s what we do know about the chemicals in many vape pens:

  • An FDA analysis of e-cigarettes from two leading brands found that the samples contained carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals, including diethylene glycol, which is found in antifreeze. These chemicals are dangers for both adolescents and adults.
  • A report from Greek researchers found that using e-cigarettes caused breathing difficulties in both smokers and non-smokers of all ages.
  • A research group based in France found that e-cigarettes contain “potentially carcinogenic elements.”
  • The British Medical Association, the World Health Organization and the United States Surgeon General have each issued warnings about the dangers that may be associated with e-cigarettes.

Vaping impacts the developing brain.

Kids’ developing brains are more susceptible to addiction and e-cigarettes essentially provide a smoke-free way to inhale nicotine, which is more addictive than heroin, cocaine or alcohol. Some brands of e-cigarettes contain a dangerously high level of nicotine – more than twice what is found in traditional cigarettes and other e-cigarettes. Nicotine mixed with a developing brain can lead to addiction, reduced impulse control and mood disorders. Nicotine also negatively impacts the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for attention, decision-making, judgement and planning.

Nicotine is equally dangerous for adults and has a negative impact on heart health.

Nicotine can:

  • Increase blood pressure and heart rate
  • Narrow arteries
  • Lead to heart attack by contributing to the constricting of the arterial wall

Many vape pens are also used to inhale THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspects that exposure to THC, as well as a mix of THC, nicotine and vitamin E, an additive in many vape carriages, is causing serious lung injury.

Vaping has been linked to lung injury.

As of September 2019, 530 cases of lung injury and seven deaths due to vaping have been reported in the U.S. Symptoms of vaping-related lung injury include:

  • Rapid onset of coughing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Physicians have attributed these symptoms to a buildup of oil and/or white blood cells in the lungs. THC and CBD, another active ingredient in cannabis, are heated up as oil in vape pens before being converted to vapor to smoke.

If your child exhibits any of these symptoms and uses a vape pen, bring them to the emergency department with the pen and the cartridge they used immediately.

Vaping misconceptions cloud its danger.

It is a marketer’s dream, and a parent’s nightmare.

  • Kids have a misconception that vaping is harmless.
  • The pods come in a variety of kid-friendly flavors that are more attractive than the taste of tobacco.
  • E-cigarettes are small and easy to hide. The JUUL looks like a flash drive and can be easily concealed in a pocket or hand.
  • Vaping is easier to do indoors, such as in bedrooms, school bathrooms and even classrooms, without detection.
  • Vaping has become quite common, and kids are exposed to classmates and images of famous people vaping, making it “cool.” Peer pressure drives kids to try it, and then they become easily addicted.

A study published in Pediatrics suggests that adolescents who vape are six times more likely to regularly smoke tobacco in young adulthood.

Talk to your kids — and loved ones — about the dangers of vaping. If they are already addicted, offer them support through counseling. Their healthy future may depend on it.

— Kay Lofgren, MA, LCPC, case therapist, Northwestern Medicine Behavioral Health, contributed to this article.