Electronic cigarettes, otherwise known as e-cigarettes or e-cigs, first made their appearance on the U.S. market in 2008. The liquid for an electronic cigarette, also known as “juice,” generally contains nicotine that is mixed with the chemicals glycerin and propylene glycol, along with various flavorings. E-cigarettes deliver nicotine into the body without producing smoke. They have gained in usage over recent years. The evidence is now emerging on the short and long-term health impacts of electronic cigarettes.
CDC statistics show that the number of teens using e-cigarettes, also referred to as vaping, has soared. In 2011, 1.5 percent of teens in high school had tried electronic cigarettes, which is a stark contrast to the 16 percent who had tried them in 2015. Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine, stated that the rise in electronic cigarette usage has “occurred even as researchers are finding more evidence that nicotine can be toxic to a young person’s still-developing brain and body systems.”
Besides nicotine, an electronic cigarette contains additional chemicals that also affect health. Research conducted on the vapors that electronic cigarettes emit has shown that they are not simply “harmless water vapor” as marketers often claim. The vapors deliver particles of chemicals that are “small enough to reach deep into the lungs.” Additional studies have shown that teens who use electronic cigarettes “have more respiratory problems” and more absences from school.
The juices used in electronic cigarettes contain propylene glycol which can irritate the airways and eyes. Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences and tobacco researcher, revealed that when glycerin or propylene glycol are heated, they can “degrade into formaldehyde and acetaldehyde,” both of which are considered carcinogens.
Live Science discusses a new study that discloses the risks posed to “teens who vape.” Teens who use e-cigarettes in high school are at an increased risk for smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes later in life. The study revealed that teens who use e-cigarettes in their senior year of high school are “four times more likely to start smoking tobacco cigarettes within the next year, compared to teens who didn’t vape” in their senior year. In the study, published in the Journal of Tobacco Control on February 7, the researchers wrote that the findings contribute “to the growing body of evidence supporting vaping as a one-way bridge to cigarette smoking among youth.”
Electronic cigarettes are often times advertised as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes because the vapor contains less harmful chemicals when compared to tobacco smoke. That being said, they still pose certain health hazards, for instance, an increased risk for heart disease. Further studies suggest that teens who vape are more likely to begin smoking traditional cigarettes when compared to teens who have never used e-cigs.
The most common reason given by teens who vape is that they experiment with e-cigarettes because “vaping tastes good.” Researchers believe that since teens do not detect an immediate consequence to their health, they believe that “the dangers of smoking are exaggerated.” One explanation of the findings in this study is that the use of electronic cigarettes may “desensitize teens to the risks of tobacco cigarettes.”
According to a study published on February 6 in the journal of Pediatrics, one in four teens who use e-cigarettes have admitted to using them in an alternative way known as “dripping.” Dripping gives a stronger sensation, enhances flavors, and produces a thicker cloud of vapors. It also allows the user to change flavors of liquid easily without waste. This study, says lead author and professor at Yale University, is the “first systematic evaluation of the use of dripping among teens.”
The normal use of an electronic cigarette involves filling a reservoir with liquid. The liquid is automatically fed to the heating coil via a wick. As defined by Alan Shihadeh, director of the Aerosol Research Laboratory at the American University of Beirut, dripping is a “method of vaping in which the user manually applies a few drops of liquid directly to the exposed heating coil of the e-cig every so many puffs.”
Because the user bypasses the reservoir when dripping, it generates higher heating coil temperatures than the conventional usage of electronic cigarettes. These higher temperatures lead to greater emissions of acrolein and formaldehyde, both of which are known causes of cancer. They are also linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.
As the liquid is consumed, the temperatures and toxic chemical emissions drastically rise. Users who use dripping as a preferred method believe that they can distinguish a flavor difference when the conditions have changed. Unfortunately, by the time they taste a difference in flavor, the users have already been exposed to a higher level of toxicants.
The popularity of e-cigarettes among teens is no longer a matter of question. According to a report from the Surgeon General in December, the electronic cigarette is the most commonly used tobacco product among teens in the United States. In fact, the use of electronic cigarettes among teens has increased from 2011 to 2015 by 900 percent.
When teens use an electronic cigarette in an alternative way, such as dripping, they are at an increased risk, and not just from carcinogens. When the e-liquid is vaporized at a higher temperature than it’s intended use, nicotine is released at a greater rate. Frequent handling of the liquid means that nicotine is also being absorbed through the skin. Even low doses of nicotine have a potential rate of toxicity to a teen’s still-developing body and brain, and as little as one teaspoon of liquid nicotine is fatal to a 200-pound adult.
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