When e-cigarettes first appeared in 2007, little was known about any potential long-term harmful effects resulting from regular use. Touted as a safe alternative to smoking traditional tobacco products, e-cigarette acceptance and use exploded, with sales over the past 10 years increasing nearly 14-fold. Part of the reason e-cigarette use increased so rapidly is that, given their status as consumer products, they were exempt from required regulatory oversight of pharmaceutical nicotine products, including nicotine gum and patches. Today, however, research has uncovered evidence pointing to major concerns related to negative health consequences associated with long-term vaping. In short, e-cigarettes and vaping may not be as safe as you think.
Vaping Increases Risk of Having Heart Attack or Stroke
While it’s tough to pinpoint the prevalence of e-cigarette use in America, estimates from research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2018 found that nearly one in 20 adults in America is a current e-cigarette user, and more than half of current e-cig smokers are under the age of 35. Furthermore, researchers say the use of e-cigs is especially common among LGBT individuals, those with co-morbid conditions, and current smokers of regular cigarettes.
Now, as researchers from the University of Kansas School of Medicine Wichita, detail in their study, adults self-reporting vaping are significantly more likely to have a heart attack (56 percent) or stroke (30 percent) than non-users. Other study findings showed that coronary artery disease and blood circulation problems, which included blood clots) are much higher among vapers. What’s perhaps surprising is the finding that e-cigarette smokers were more than twice as likely to suffer from emotional problems, including depression and anxiety.
The University of Kansas School of Medicine Wichita study is the largest to-date study of the relationship between vaping and negative cardiovascular health and other health outcomes. It’s also one of the first to establish an association – but not causation, as yet – between the two. Still, researchers note, although traditional smoking carries a higher risk of having a heart attack (165 percent), coronary artery disease (94 percent), or stroke (78 percent), that doesn’t mean vaping is safe. E-cigarettes may contain nicotine (which can increase blood pressure and quicken heartbeat) and release similar toxic compounds that occur during traditional tobacco smoking.
E-Cigs Not Safe for Lung Health
In a study published in Tobacco Control, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that vapers were nearly twice as likely to develop wheezing and other respiratory problems as those who did not regularly use tobacco products. Wheezing, caused by airways that are narrowed or abnormal, noted researchers in this study, is one of the early signs of lung damage. Wheezing is also often a precursor to heart failure, sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease and lung cancer.
Researchers said the results are consistent with previous University of Rochester research published in PLOS ONE that showed emissions from aerosols in e-cigarettes and flavorings can damage the cells of the lungs by generating harmful free radicals and inflammation in lung tissues.
USB-type Vaping Devices Deliver High Levels of Nicotine
What should be of particular concern to parents of adolescents and teens is the skyrocketing rate of vaping that’s occurred in just the last few years. Nicotine, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is highly addictive, and most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. But there are special dangers to kids from vaping, since adolescent brains are still in developmental mode, and nicotine wreaks havoc on normal brain maturation. Vaping may also lead to smoking tobacco. But, besides nicotine, vaping devices may also contain other harmful substances: cancer-causing chemicals; volatile organic compounds; flavoring with diacetyl, a chemical linked to lung disease; ultrafine particles inhaled into the lungs; and heavy metals that include tin, lead and nickel.
Not only that, for vigilant parents monitoring their children’s use of substances, including smoking and vaping, it’s often tough to discern the new vaping devices from commonly used school items, such as pens and USB drives. Indeed, JUUL, the maker of the top-selling cigarette brand in the U.S., sells its highly potent vaping devices that are shaped like USB-flash drives. A single JUUL pod has nicotine comparable to a pack of 20 regular tobacco cigarettes. Research published in BMJ says that JUUL, introduced to the U.S. market in 2015, uses benzoic acid and nicotine salt technology to produce nicotine concentration of 50 mg/mL in the standard version, compared to the typical nicotine concentrations in other e-cigarettes of 3-24 mg/mL.
Here’s how the JUUL vaping device works:
- It’s battery operated.
- The device heats a liquid containing nicotine.
- The heated liquid produces an aerosol.
- The vaper inhales the aerosol.
As noted in the BMJ research, evidence pointing to potential addiction occurring from regular adolescent vaping was scant before 2018. Now that JUUL and nicotine salt-based products have emerged, the trend “might signal a change” and suggests the need for continued monitoring of adolescent vaping behavior, the products they use and frequency of use.
Data from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that past 30-day vaping among high school seniors was 20.8 percent, compared to 11.7 percent in 2017. This is consistent with trends found in the 2018 Monitoring the Future Study which noted that nicotine vaping among adolescents aged 16 to 19 are the largest ever recorded of any substances in the 44 years the MTF has tracked adolescent drug use.
Explosions of Vaping Devices May Cause Serious Injury
Warnings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on how to avoid exploding vaping devices make it clear that there’s potential for serious injury from such incidents. While the FDA says these explosions are rare, and the underlying causes are unknown, it is suspected that issues related to the devices’ batteries may be involved.
Safety tips from the FDA on how to protect yourself from exploding vape devices include these recommendations:
- Do not use your phone/tablet charger to charge the vaping device.
- If batteries in the vaping device become wet or damaged, replace the batteries.
- Never charge your vaping device overnight.
- Be sure to protect the vaping device from extreme temperatures, such as leaving it on the dashboard of the car during a hot day.
- Use proper storage of loose vaping device batteries by putting them in a case and making sure they’re away from metal objects.
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