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Vaping: A Dangerous Trend Among Teens

Inhaling nicotine and cancer-causing toxins through an e-cigarette isn't just un-cool — it's not safe.

Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, 29 percent of high school students report using e-cigarettes — called “vaping.” Melissa Pote, D.O., a Family Medicine physician with The Iowa Clinic, says, “Perhaps the high usage is because people still think e-cigarettes are safe. But they're not.”

Nicotine Addiction

In fact, e-cigarettes — once thought as a healthy alternative to smoking tobacco — contain varying levels of harmful substances and contribute to unhealthy behaviors. Specifically, Dr. Pote warns her young patients and their parents about nicotine addiction.

Although the liquid used in e-cigarettes contains lower levels of nicotine than traditional cigarettes, it's still addictive. And, reports the CDC, vaping doubles the odds that the user will advance to smoking traditional cigarettes.

“Nicotine increases blood pressure and heart rate, and evidence also shows that it can be harmful to brain development. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to those issues,” says Pote.

Potentially high levels of formaldehyde

A strong, colorless, but toxic chemical often used in the manufacture of building products. Created by oxidizing methanol (a volatile flammable liquid alcohol that is also toxic), formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.

According to an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine, exposure to formaldehyde from e-cigarettes (based on similar chronic use as tobacco) could be as much as 15 times higher than from smoking cigarettes.

Other cancer-causing ingredients.

“Some liquids also contain lead, arsenic, and propylene glycol — the same chemical found in antifreeze,” says Pote.

Accidental poisoning.

“The liquid used in e-cigarettes comes in flavors such as cotton candy and strawberry, but it's as dangerous as having bleach in your cupboard. Parents who use e-cigarettes should keep the liquid locked up and out of reach,” says Pote.

Use is Easy to Hide

“It's very difficult to detect that someone is smoking e-cigarettes. You can't smell tobacco smoke on their clothes and it doesn't cause teeth to yellow,” says Pote. Therefore, she urges parents to educate their children.

“It's important to have open communication with your kids about the negative effects of nicotine and other chemicals contained in e-cigarettes as well as regular tobacco,” she says.

Illegal for Iowa’s Minors

In June 2014, Iowa enacted legislation making it illegal for retailers to sell alternative nicotine and vapor products to individuals under the age of 18.

Because of the clear hazards, the American Academy of Family Physicians and other medical groups are actively lobbying for stricter national regulations on the distribution and marketing of e-cigarettes. Further, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed that it regulate e-cigarettes in the same way it regulates tobacco products, meaning that it would be illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors in any state.

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