The Health Risks of Vaping

Puffing on electronic cigarettes, or vaping, is a relatively new practice thatís gaining in popularity, especially among young people. And while some claim itís a safer and healthier alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, experts remain unconvinced. Here are four things you should know about vaping:

1. E-cigarettes Contain Nicotine, Which Is Addictive

Itís true that regular cigarettes contain many more components, some of themólike formaldehyde, arsenic, and ammoniaóquite toxic. But e-cigarettes still contain nicotine, which in addition to being toxic, is highly addictive. This is a particular worry when it comes to adolescents.

Teens may try vaping simply because ads make it seem glamorous, but they're becoming hooked in increasing numbers. Current use of e-cigarettes by middle schoolers increased from 0.6 percent in 2011 to 3.9 percent in 2013, according to Sophie J. Balk, MD, a pediatrician at the Childrenís Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center and professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, both in New York. High schoolers saw an even bigger jump: 11.9 percent used e-cigarettes in 2013, up from 1.5 percent in 2011.

2. Vaping May Lead to Smoking Regular Cigarettes

Not only can you become dependent on e-cigarettes, you might also turn to regular cigarettes to fulfill your nicotine cravings. "There is a risk that using electronic cigarettes among nonsmokers could be the first step on a trajectory [path] towards established smoking," says Robert McMillen, PhD, associate professor of psychology and associate director of the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University in Starkville. "Studies of adolescents and young adults found that nonsmokers who had tried e-cigarettes were more open to trying smoking than those who had not tried e-cigarettes."

3. We Still Don't Know the Health Risks

One big problem with e-cigarettes is that many of the chemicals in them are a mystery, as are the consequences of smoking them.

"Some of these things are generally recognized as safe for ingestion, but we just donít know about inhalation," says Balk. "[E-cigarettes are] not just water vapor." The government doesnít oversee the product, and because e-cigarettes are so new, few studies explore long-term health risks.

4. Young Children Are at Risk of Liquid Nicotine Poisoning

Although toddlers arenít likely to vape, they face the very real danger of being poisoned if they ingest the liquid nicotine thatís used to refill e-cigarettes. In response to the 2014 death of a New York toddler after swallowing liquid nicotine that had been left in an open container, Congress passed a bill known as the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act of 2015, which requires liquid-nicotine containers to have childproof packaging.

The bottom line? Donít vape. "E-cigarettes are relatively new, but itís important for people to realize that there are definite hazards,Ē says Balk. "As a pediatrician talking to teens, I strongly advise them to stay away from e-cigarettes." Thatís good advice for anyone of any age.

Sophie Balk, MD, reviewed this article.

Sources

Balk, Sophie, MD. Phone conversation with source on January 8 2016.

McMillen, Robert, Ph.D. Email excerpt provided by Sophie Balk, MD.

"E-cigarettes and Lung Health." American Lung Association. Accessed on January 15, 2016.

"Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems." American Academy of Pediatrics. October 2015.