Severe health risks of vaping and e-cigarettes, especially for youth, say experts


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Vaping, the practice of inhaling and exhaling aerosol from an e-cigarette, has emerged as a trend, especially among teenagers and young adults. 

While the full impact of e-cigarettes on mental and physical health is still to be determined, current research indicates potential health risks. 

What exactly is vaping?

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Vaping devices, which include e-cigarettes, e-vaporizers and electronic nicotine delivery systems, are battery-operated devices originally designed as an alternative to the experience of traditional smoking. 

Users inhale an aerosol mist — often containing nicotine, various flavorings and other chemicals — produced when the liquid inside the device is heated. These devices come in various forms, sometimes resembling everyday items such as pens, traditional cigarettes, USB memory sticks or even juice boxes.

Girl vaping with flannel shirt

In teenagers and young adults, the brain is still developing. Exposure to nicotine can lead to attention, learning, behavioral and impulse control problems. (Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

The term “vaping” arises from transforming liquid to vapor when the user puffs on the device. 

Other terms associated with vaping include “dripping,” manually applying e-liquid to the heated coils, and “JUULing,” a term referring to the JUUL brand of e-cigarettes. 

Fox News Digital reached out to JUUL, based in San Francisco, for comment for this article. While the company responded, it opted not to provide a statement at this time.

Initially designed as tools to pursue smoking cessation and to act as an alternative, e-cigarettes began to grow in popularity as an enjoyable experience, especially with the flavorings available and the concealability. 

Appeal of e-cigarettes for adolescents

In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted an e-cigarette epidemic among youth, based on a 78% increase in use from the previous year among high school students recorded by the National Youth Tobacco Survey. 

A primary reason that e-cigarettes appeal to the younger generations is their accessibility. 

Young adults aged 18 to 24 are the most frequent users of e-cigarettes. Data also shows that among the 11- to 15-year-old age group, 9% reported having tried vaping, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A primary reason that e-cigarettes appeal to the younger generations is their accessibility, according to the Rehabilitation Nursing Journal. 

Other reasons listed for their appeal include the targeted marketing, enticing flavors, social media influence and the belief that they are safer than the traditional alternative of regular cigarettes. 

Health risks of vaping

The adolescent years are a critical time for brain development, which continues until about the age of 25, according to physiological studies. 

Sign reading "Vape Shop"

Vaping can lead to lung irritation and has been linked to respiratory problems, such as coughing, wheezing and asthma. (Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

During this time, the prefrontal cortex — a part of the brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control — is particularly vulnerable to external influences. 

Introducing nicotine through vaping can disrupt the development of neuronal circuits, which could lead to changes in brain function. In particular, nicotine exposure can desensitize the brain’s receptors, which would make it more difficult for an individual to experience pleasure without increased nicotine use.

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Nicotine’s effect on the brain also impacts the reward system, because it increases dopamine release, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This change can be particularly harmful during the developmental stage, as the ongoing maturation of the brain is essential to establishing healthy cognitive and behavioral patterns for adulthood.

Other negative effects of nicotine use, especially in youth, as has been widely reported, include:

Respiratory issues

The use of e-cigarettes has been correlated with lung injury, according to a CDC update providing guidance to health care providers. 

A specific and severe lung condition, E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI), has been directly linked to the use of vapes.

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The flavors added to the cartridge have been implicated as a possible factor related to respiratory issues, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Vape advertisement for "Vuse Go Range"

Nicotine and other chemicals found in e-cigarettes can have harmful effects on the heart and the rest of the cardiovascular system. (Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Chemicals such as benzaldehyde and diacetyl are especially concerning due to their association with lung damage, according to the Journal of the American Academy of PAs (JAAPA). 

Cardiovascular health

A study conducted by JAMA Cardiology found that the same negative impacts on the cardiovascular health of traditional cigarette smokers were seen in habitual e-cigarette users as well. 

Additionally, those who “used e-cigarettes at any point” had a 19% higher risk of developing heart failure, according to a study by the American College of Cardiology.

Chemical exposure

Inhalation of chemicals found in e-cigarette liquids is known to be especially harmful to adolescents, according to the American Lung Association. 

Propylene glycol, a key ingredient in many vaping products, has been associated with several health issues. 

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Exposure to propylene glycol may be a contributing root cause of conditions such as rhinitis, asthma and dry mouth, according to JAAPA. 

Moreover, when vaporized, propylene glycol can decompose into formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, irritating the eyes, nose, throat, upper respiratory tract and skin.

Shelf filled with various flavors of vapes

A pharmacist named Hon Lik invented the first vape in 2003. He originally invented the device to help smokers quit the habit.  (Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Concerns about the safety of these substances are manifested by a lack of regulation in the vaping industry. 

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“The pharmacologically active components of vaping products are not regulated, and the methods by which they are extracted and suspended in solution vary greatly … The risk profiles of these inhaled chemical mixtures change significantly depending upon the method by which they are vaporized or heated,” cautions the Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association.

How do e-cigarettes compare to traditional cigarettes?

It was not until 2016 that the Food and Drug Administration began to regulate e-cigarettes, as reported by the Rehabilitation Nursing Journal. 

With this regulatory shift, the items became subject to similar restrictions as tobacco products, including the age requirement for purchase of 18 years old. 

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Highlighting the consequences of vaping, 22-year-old Jackson Allard shared his experience as a caution to youth who are considering vaping, as Fox News previously reported.

Likely as a result of his vaping habit, Allard developed parainfluenza, which led to pneumonia and then acute respiratory distress syndrome; he nearly lost his life.

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His grandmother, Doreen Hurlburt, frequently warned him against the habit, she said.

“Multiple doctors said, ‘If you smoke cigarettes for 50 years, we’ll see you with lung cancer, and if you vape for five years, we’ll see you with permanent lung damage,'” Hurlburt told Fox News. 

Mills Hays of Fox News contributed reporting. 



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