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.1 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.2 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. A recent study revealed that e-cigarettes contain many of the same toxic compounds that are found in conventional cigarettes, including lead.3 Another recent study by the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education found a correlation between daily vaping and an increased risk of heart attack.4
There is also substantial evidence on the highly addictive nature of nicotine, as well as the negative effects it can have on the young adult brain. The nicotine content in vapes can vary widely and is challenging to estimate, which is 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 may be the most concerning about the recent research on vaping is that most young adults are unaware of the negative health effects. A study by Stanford University found that many young adult users of one of the most popular e-cigarette devices, Juul, did not know that the device contained nicotine or that the substance contained addictive properties.5 The Juul has gained popularity among teens and young adults in part because of 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.6 The FDA has also cracked down on retailers selling e-cigarettes to minors.6
The bottom line is that vaping is a significant public health concern. The long-term effects of regular e-cigarette use are not yet clear, but 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.2
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