By Veronica Perez, MPH, CHES
Assistant Professor, College of Nursing & Health Care Professions
The dangers of tobacco and cigarette smoking are well-documented. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no safe tobacco product because all forms of tobacco are addictive and harmful to health. In recent years, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have become popular with teens and young adults. E-cigarettes (also called “vapes” or “vape pens”) are devices containing nicotine and flavorings that heat liquid into an aerosol which is then inhaled by the user. Use of e-cigarettes is commonly called “vaping.” As conventional cigarette smoking rates decline, vaping rates are on a steady climb among youth and adults. These devices are viewed by many as safer than cigarette smoking…but is vaping a safer alternative to smoking?
Many public health authorities agree that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but are not without their own health risks. Recent research on the health effects of vaping reveals unsettling news. A recent study revealed that e-cigarettes contain many of the same toxic compounds, including lead, that are found in conventional cigarettes. Another recent study by the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education found there was considerable evidence that daily vaping was related to an increased risk of heart attack.
There is also substantial evidence on the highly addictive nature of nicotine and the negative effects it can have on the young adult brain. The nicotine content in e-cigarettes can vary widely and are challenging to estimate, which is also concerning to public health professionals. The nicotine in e-cigarettes doesn’t have the same “hit” as with conventional cigarettes, so some e-cigarette manufacturers have ramped up the nicotine content to compensate.
What is most concerning about the recent research findings on e-cigarettes is that most young adults are unaware of the negative health effects of e-cigarettes. A study by Stanford University found that many young adult users of the most popular e-cigarette device, Juul, did not know that the device contained nicotine. In addition, they were unaware of its addictive properties. The Juul has gained popularity among teens and young adults, many drawn to its sleek, discreet design and its ease of use. In an effort to stop youth access to e-cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required the manufacturer of the Juul device, and other e-cigarette manufacturers, to submit documents about its marketing and research about young people. The FDA has also cracked down on retailers selling e-cigarettes to minors.
The bottom line is that e-cigarette use is a significant public health concern. The long-term effects of regular e-cigarette use are not yet clear. What is becoming clearer is that e-cigarettes pose significant health risks, especially to teens and young adults. To learn more about the health risks and dangers of e-cigarettes, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Electronic Cigarettes page.
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- Glantz, S. A. (2018, August 21). Risk of Heart Attacks Is Double for Daily E-Cigarette Users. Retrieved from https://tobacco.ucsf.edu/risk-heart-attacks-double-daily-e-cigarette-users
- McKelvey, K., Baiocchi, M., & Halpern-Felsher, B. (2018, October 19). Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Use and Perceptions of Pod-Based Electronic Cigarettes. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2707425
- Olmedo, P., Goessler, W., Tanda, S., Grau-Perez, M., Jarmul, S., Aherrera, A., … Rule, A. M. (2018, February 21). Metal Concentrations in e-Cigarette Liquid and Aerosol Samples: The Contribution of Metallic Coils. Retrieved from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp2175
- Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Young People. (2018, September 27). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-E-cigarettes-for-Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults.html
- Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on new enforcement actions and a Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan to stop youth use of, and access to, JUUL and other e-cigarettes. (2018, April 24). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm605432.htm