The U.S. Surgeon General released a new report December 8, 2016, titled “E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults” which gives the facts and the risks associated with using these devices. One fact that cannot be ignored is e-cigarettes contain nicotine and “exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and disrupt attention and learning, as well as harm brain development, which continues to about age 25.”
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have evolved rapidly from disposable devices that look like cigarettes into personalized, refillable devices known as e-hookahs, vape pens, mods or tank systems. No matter the device, they all work on the same premise: a liquid, usually containing nicotine, flavorings, and other additives, is heated by means of a rechargeable batter which turns into an aerosol to be inhaled. Teen use has skyrocketed since 2011: Middle school use has increased from 0.6% to 5.3% in 2015 while high school use has increased from 1.5% to 16.0% during the same time period.
Many users may not even be aware the devices contain nicotine which may affect brain development. Teen brains are still growing and developing which causes them to become addicted to nicotine more easily. Decision making and impulse control is not yet learned and exposure to nicotine puts them at risk for addiction to other drugs, “mood disorders and permanent lowering of impulse control.” The use of e-cigarettes “is strongly linked to the use of other tobacco products, such as regular cigarettes, cigars, hookah, and smokeless tobacco.” And those teens and young adults who use e-cigarettes “are more likely to to try conventional cigarettes in the future” versus those who never use e-cigarettes.
Other risks, such as the aerosol, chemicals in flavorings, and battery explosions have issues of their own. The aerosol particles are much finer than conventional tobacco smoke and can travel deeper into the lungs, carrying with it the chemicals in the flavorings. While the devices haven’t been on the market long enough for scientists to study all the chemicals and their effects, researchers have identified benzene, “heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead,” and “diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease.” There is also concern for those in the vicinity who may be exposed to the exhaled aerosol. And exploding e-cigarette batteries have caused serious injuries and are frequently in the news.
We live in a time of great information and choices. Cigarettes have been available for over 100 years and doctors and scientists are still learning about new dangers caused by their use. We don’t have years of research on the dangers of electronic cigarettes to draw from, but the findings so far should be cause for alarm.
Coming Monday: Surgeon General Report on E-cigarette Use – part 2
Click HERE for the Surgeon General site and the report.