By: Dr. Heather Hradek
Vaping, ‘Juuling’, and E-cigarettes have exploded on the scene since their introduction and continued to gain popularity, particularly among teens and young adults because it was initially thought as a ‘cool, safe alternative’ to smoking cigarettes. People magazine showing pictures of various celebrities such as Sophia Turner and Bella Hadid using E-cigarettes has contributed as well to the growth. While e-cigarettes were initially developed as a way for adult smokers to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, they’ve actually caused a drastic increase in teen tobacco use instead. Teen use of tobacco products has increased an astonishing 38.3 percent—and it’s entirely to blame on e-cigarettes. While rates of other forms of tobacco use have remained static, use of e-cigarettes has increased by 1.5 million.
The facade of e-cigarettes being a ‘safe’ alternative has come crashing down recently as various state departments of health, including the Indiana State Department of Health have reported clusters of severe respiratory illness seen in teenagers and young adults who have reported vaping in weeks and months prior to the onset of their illness. These patients experienced symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, fever, weight loss, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Evaluations for viral, bacterial, and fungal infections were all negative. The symptoms worsened over days or weeks prior to being admitted to the hospital. Some have required ventilators to breathe- actually 1/3 of the cases. Some have even died.
That’s right. As of the time of this post, there have been 6 deaths nationwide from severe respiratory illness associated with vaping. One of these deaths was in Indiana, so this hits close to home. The CDC is currently investigating 450 potential cases of this respiratory illness associated with vaping nationwide.
E-cigarettes are not harmless- the aerosol created contains harmful ingredients such as nicotine, volatile organic compounds, cancer causing chemicals, heavy metals such as tin, nickel, and lead, and diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease. Nicotine, as everyone knows, is highly addictive, but particularly in teens and young adults, can harm brain development, which continues until age 25. According to the manufacturer, a single Juul pod has as much nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes!
Unfortunately, e-cigarettes can have unintended consequences or injuries as well. There have been multiple reports of defective e-cigarettes causing fires and even explosions, which have lead to serious injuries! A recent article was published on CNN about a teen whose e-cigarette exploded in his face, shattering his jaw and displacing several teeth (link: https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/19/health/e-cigarette-vape-explode-teen-study/index.html?fbclid=IwAR1MgBNlhSUFpn5jBiC3x6EBhvPuqgLzybVjAr8ge38CCWL1arGzeK7PaOM) is one case of several thousand in past years. According to the article, a Texas man died earlier this year when the shrapnel from his exploded e-cigarette shredded his carotid artery and a Florida man died a year ago when his exploding e-cigarette sent a projectile into his head. There’s also the possibility of toxic acute nicotine exposure or accidental poisoning from swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid.
Basically, the moral of the story is while the vapor of e-cigarettes may contain fewer carcinogens, they are definitely not a safer alternative to smoking. If you don’t smoke, don’t start, even e-cigarettes.