by Will Gilyard, Dean of Students
The practice of vaping – the use of e-cigarettes that produce an aerosol vapor to deliver nicotine – has now reached epidemic proportions among young people. Lured by clever advertising, enticing, kid-friendly flavors such as “Cotton Candy” and “Gummy Bear,” and nicotine cartridges shaped like flash drives, teenagers and even pre-teens – many of whom would never dream of smoking cigarettes – are experimenting with vaping or are now vaping regularly.
The U.S. Surgeon General reports that more than 20 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school students currently use e-cigarettes and that vaping has now spread to young people of all regions, ethnicities, and socio-economic classes. Clothing manufacturers have even been marketing “vapewear” to teenagers, including hoodies and backpacks with small pockets designed to stash e-cigarettes.
Here are some critical facts for parents, educators, and young people to consider:
- Vaping poses significant health risks.
Nationwide, more than 1,800 people have been diagnosed with vaping-related illnesses, and 37 people have died from them.
The aerosol (vapor) produced by e-cigarettes consist of ultrafine particles that are inhaled deeply into the lungs, where they can do extensive damage and cause respiratory diseases.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified more than 70 chemicals in the vapor delivered by e-cigarettes, and 26 of these are on the FDA’s harmful and potentially harmful substance list. These toxic substances, some of them carcinogens, include:
– propylene glycol (found in anti-freeze)
– acetone (found in nail polish remover and paint thinner)
– ethylbenzene (found in pesticides, varnishes, paints, and inks)
– formaldehyde (found in embalming fluid)
– heavy metals, such as nickel and lead
Nicotine itself is known to have harmful effects on the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Recent studies show that nicotine impairs flow-mediated dilation of the arteries (the natural expansion of the arteries in response to increased blood flow). A single e-cigarette pod contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, and many vapers buy extra-strength cartridges that contain even higher concentrations of nicotine. Such intense doses can cause users to become “nic-sick,” leading to vomiting, dizziness, and headaches.
- Vaping is as addictive as smoking cigarettes.
Nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine, which is why both smokers and vapers have such a hard time quitting. Nicotine use in early adolescence causes changes in the brain that make life-long addiction much more likely for both young smokers and e-cigarette users
- Vaping can lead to smoking cigarettes and using drugs.
Though vaping began as a way for cigarette smokers to quit, physicians say it’s actually leading some young people to smoke cigarettes and try other drugs. “The #1 concern about vaping right now is the so-called gateway effect,” Michael Blaha, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, recently wrote. “We might be causing the next smoking epidemic through young people getting addicted to electronic cigarettes early in life.”
Because vaping has become a popular method for ingesting THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active ingredient in marijuana, it’s easy and natural for young people who’ve been using e-cigarettes to make the transition to vaping THC.
- We don’t yet know the full consequences of vaping.
Because vaping products are so new and health professionals can’t fast forward into the future, the long-term effects of these products are impossible to predict. Just imagine what else we will know about the consequences of vaping in another 10 years when we have a fuller picture.
What we do know now is this: Vaping can cause disease, death, and addiction and lead to smoking cigarettes and using other drugs.