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Family Medicine

Vaping is No Longer Just a Teenage Trend — It's a Health Crisis

There's nothing cool about the health effects of e-cigarettes. The nicotine, toxic chemicals and cancer-causing ingredients are downright dangerous.


Back in 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were concerned about the rise of e-cigarette use among teens. The term “vaping” was well-known in high schools, but was still being introduced to most adults.

Fast forward to now and vaping is a public health crisis. Thousands of lung injuries and dozens of deaths have been linked to vaping, leading a number of states to enact restrictions on e-cigarette sales.

What was once considered a safe “alternative” to smoking tobacco cigarettes is proving to be anything but.

Vaping causes dangerous health effects.

Electronic cigarettes have always been considered unsafe for young adults and children. They evidence is piling up and suggesting that they are dangerous for people of all ages.

“People still think e-cigarettes are safe. But they’re not,” says Melissa Ehm Pote, DO, family physician at The Iowa Clinic’s Ankeny Campus. “E-cigarettes contain varying levels of harmful substances, contribute to unhealthy behaviors and lead to nicotine addiction.”

In many cases, public health officials are only learning about the toxins hidden in vaping products with each additional lung injury. Most affected patients have reported using vaping products with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. 

Even without considering the string of deaths and lung injuries from vaping, nicotine e-cigarettes have their own list of dangers.

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1. High Levels of Dangerous Toxins

Formaldehyde is one of the known chemicals in traditional cigarettes. It’s a toxic chemical used in the manufacture of building products, or as it’s more commonly known, a key component of embalming fluid.

An analysis published in The New England Journal of Medicine, estimated that exposure to formaldehyde is worse in electronic cigarettes. It could be as much as 15 times higher! This means that e-cigarettes are greatly increasing your risk of respiratory illness and cancer, as formaldehyde is linked to both.

Formaldehyde isn’t the only toxin lurking inside vape cartridges. Other ingredients, like acrolein, a herbicide used to kill weeds, cause cancer. Acetaldehyde and diacetyl are linked to lung disease.

“Some liquids also contain heavy metals like lead, nickel and tin. Other products have been found to have arsenic and propylene glycol — the same chemical found in antifreeze,” says Dr. Pote. “And the more ingredients you inhale, the greater the toxicity.”

2. Accidental Poisoning

One of the major public health issues in the vaping crisis is the popularity and marketing of flavored liquid cartridges. These can make an e-cigarette taste like candy, which makes them much more appealing to teens.

It can be just as appealing to younger children, who may actually mistake it for candy and drink the toxic chemical mixture.

“The liquid used in e-cigarettes comes in flavors such as cotton candy and strawberry,” Dr. Pote says. “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 the reach of children.”

3. Nicotine Addiction

Tobacco cigarette or vape pen — no matter how nicotine is delivered, it’s addictive and harmful. Although some vaping products contain lower levels of nicotine than traditional cigarettes, others have a lot more. And it can be hard to tell what you’re putting in your e-cigarette and what the “right amount” of nicotine should be.

“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 Dr. Pote says.

The dangers of nicotine don’t stop there. It also contributes to the hardening of the arteries, which increases your risk of a heart attack. And, according to the CDC, vaping doubles the odds that you’ll eventually move to get your nicotine fix from traditional cigarettes, a habit that kills half of the people who do it long-term.

E-Cigarettes are still legal for adults in Iowa - for now. 

E-cigarette sales to minors have been illegal in Iowa since June 2014. Adults can still legally purchase and consume vaping products. Elsewhere in the country, that is changing.

Laws were quickly established when electronic cigarettes were introduced, but they were not even regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) until 2016. As the recent outbreak of lung injuries shows, there is still much more to learn about the safety and health effects of vaping. Many states and cities have moved to ban all e-cigarettes until more is known. Others are banning flavored vaping products to help prevent usage among teens.

In September 2019, the FDA announced a move to finalize a policy that bans the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. They’re also working with the CDC and state health departments to further “investigate the distressing incidents of severe respiratory disease associated with use of e-cigarette products.”

Vaping is still a dangerous trend among teens. 

The trend among teens has continued its upward trajectory. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services annual youth tobacco survey showed that more than 25 percent of high schoolers used e-cigarettes in 2019.

Vaping has quickly become an epidemic. E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco products among kids. And there’s evolving evidence that shows young adults have greater health risks from e-cigarette usage, including irreversible lung damage and lung disease.

Dr. Pote urges parents to educate children on these dangers. “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.

Kids don’t always want to hear it from their parents, however. The CDC recommends setting up an appointment with your family physician so your child can learn about the dangers of e-cigarettes from a health professional.

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