There are many questions surrounding the use of e-cigarettes, such as:
- Is it smart to use e-cigarettes to quit smoking?
- What are the long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes?
- Is vaping safer than smoking?
- What should I do if my child is vaping?
While the answers to some of these questions continue to evolve, there are some things we do know about e-cigarettes, also known as vape products, and their safety.
How Vaping Works
An e-cigarette or other vaping device is typically made up of a cartridge that holds e-liquid, a heating element, a battery and a mouthpiece. When the person inhales, a sensor triggers the heating element to heat the liquid. This creates an aerosol, which is inhaled into the lungs.
Vape Products and Health
From the broadest perspective, the respiratory system is an important part of our health and wellbeing. Ingesting any kind of foreign substance into the lungs is dangerous to your health. Over time, we have learned that smoking cigarettes can cause lung cancer. But vape products are relatively new on the market, therefore many of their long-term effects are unknown. They were first introduced in 2007, with very little regulation for the first several years.
According to Lynne Beezley, RRT, Respiratory Therapist at Yavapai Regional Medical Center, the FDA initially allowed advertising for e-cigarettes because technically, they don’t contain tobacco.
“However, most e-cigarettes do contain an additive used in tobacco, which is nicotine,” says Beezley. “In 2016, the FDA started placing more restrictive regulations on vape products, but by that time there were already lots of unregulated products on the market.”
By September, 2019, there was a sharp national increase in the number of Emergency Department visits for a new condition called EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury). Unlike the symptoms that smokers typically develop, EVALI presents as acute poisoning, with symptoms developing in a matter of days. As of January 21st, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 60 deaths in patients with EVALI.
“Traditional smokers end up hospitalized much later in life,” says Beezley. “This ‘outbreak’ as the CDC is calling it, is gaining more media attention because young people are suffering and dying.”
Beezley explains that the illness involved in the outbreak was primarily lipoid pneumonia, which is caused by fats and oils in lungs. While the digestive system has enzymes to break down fats and oils, the lungs are not designed to process these types of substances. Instead, the immune system starts to fight lung tissue.
In addition, since this is a new condition, there is no data yet as to the extent of long-term lung damage in the survivors of EVALI, including those who were on ventilators and in the ICU.
To make matters worse, the CDC warns that there have been reports of defective e-cigarette battery fires and explosions, some causing serious injuries.
Vape Products and Quitting Tobacco
It is widely agreed upon that quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. However, the use of e-cigarettes is not recognized by the FDA as a proven smoking cessation method.
Some research indicates that people who quit smoking using patches, gums and other nicotine replacement methods were more likely to have quit nicotine completely. Many who used e-cigarettes were then faced with the new challenge of quitting e-cigarettes.
YRMC regularly offers smoking cessation classes. For more information, please call (928) 771-5102 or contact the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-556-6222.
Children and Vaping
Parents’ increasing concerns are warranted. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “Vaping is not considered safe for teens and young adults, especially since their brains are still in a period of active development.”
In developing brains, nicotine may have a negative effect on the part of the brain that regulates impulse control, causing increased difficulty with focus and a decline in school performance. There are also the immediate and long-term respiratory issues to consider.
To make the issue more complicated, some vape products are marketed to kids, with flavors like bubble gum, root beer and cotton candy. In addition, vaping devices now resemble pens, markers and computer zip drives. They’re easy to conceal, making it easier for teens to bring them to school and use them on campus, often in plain sight of school staff.
Signs that your child might be vaping might include unusual items in their room or backpack, wheezing or coughing, behavioral changes, weight loss, and/or a decline in school performance. If you suspect that your child might be vaping, Beezley recommends that you inform yourself about the hazards of vaping first. “Then sit down and talk. Share what you know and help them understand that it can make them ill,” she recommends.
It’s important to approach the conversation from a place of concern for your child’s health, not judgement. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids advises that listening rather than lecturing is the best approach, as well as using open-ended questions such as, “What do you think about vaping?” to begin the conversation. If there’s a family friend, relative or teacher that you feel might connect with your child better than you can, Beezley suggests that you see if they would be willing to talk with your child.
The Bottom Line
There is still much to be learned about the risks of using e-cigarettes, including the makeup of the chemicals that are ingested into the lungs and how they affect our brain, respiratory and circulatory systems. Research on the long-term effects on our health and longevity continues. Perhaps most importantly, we are only beginning to understand how e-cigarettes can affect our children’s health and development.