Healthy Choices in the New Year: The Dangers of Vaping

Healthy Choices in the New Year: The Dangers of Vaping

By Dr. Kumar Gaurav

Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Chicago

Many people believe the best way to kick a smoking habit and to decrease the risk of tobacco-related diseases is by transitioning to e-cigarettes. Though this idea has become popularized in recent years, this is not a safe alternative as the danger lies within the ingredients of these products. Although e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, many include nicotine, which comes from tobacco, as well as a mix of other potentially harmful chemicals. Why does this matter? Because nicotine is a highly addictive chemical compound that can change the way the brain works and cause physical and psychological dependence.

Users heat a liquid to turn it into an aerosol, or a "vapor" (hence the term "vaping") and inhale it into their lungs. Nicotine and other suspected carcinogens in the liquid can circulate throughout the user's body during vaping. Additional ingredients may include:

• Propylene glycol found to increase lung and airway irritation after concentrated exposure.

• Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and nausea, and can damage the liver, kidney and nervous system.

• Flavoring chemicals contain different levels of diacetyl a compound linked to the serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans.

• Formaldehyde may form if e-liquid overheats, or not enough liquid reaches the heating element (known as a "dry-puff").

• Metals like tin, lead, nickel, chromium, manganese and arsenic have also been reported.

Youth vaping epidemic

Vaping health risks are still being evaluated and more research is required, but there is increasing proof the chemicals in the ingredients are dangerous and the consequences severe. A recent study has shown people who vape have a 59% higher risk of a heart attack, 40% higher risk of heart disease and 71% higher risk of stroke than non-users.

The American Cancer Society also shared reports of serious lung disease in some e-cigarettes users, with symptoms including:

• Cough, trouble breathing, or chest pain

• Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

• Fatigue, fever or weight loss

Mindful of these side effects and epidemic levels of vaping among youth, at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) we advocate for broader understanding, education and awareness about the consequences of vaping, especially for young people. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020, an estimated 3.6 million (13.1%) U.S. middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes within the past 30 days and more than 80% of current users reported using flavored devices.

Vaping has become "cool" and popular among middle and high schoolers. The appeal stems from the idealization of cigarettes, with smoking often glamorized in the media and pop culture. According to the American Lung Association, 39% of young users vape because a "friend or family member" does, 31% because of "flavors such as mint, candy, fruit, or chocolate" and 17% have the belief "they are less harmful than other forms of tobacco such as cigarettes." This misinformation, targeted advertising and normalized activity is dangerous.

An October 2021 report in JAMA Pediatrics showed teen vaping of marijuana doubled between 2013 and 2020, signaling that young people may be replacing joints, pipes or bongs with vape pens as well as creating the potential for adverse physical and cognitive health outcomes.

Bottom line: the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens and young adults. While experts do not know the full extent of negative health consequences wrought by e-cigarettes, they do understand the puff isn't worth the price of someone's health. Dedicated prevention and intervention resources must be directed at middle and high school students to help them stop using e-cigarettes in a safe manner

and ideally never start. It's on us - the village of parents and loved ones, teachers, healthcare providers, coaches and other influencers - to talk to children about the dangers of vaping.

Dr. Kumar Gaurav joined Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), Chicago in October 2021. As an interventional pulmonologist, Dr. Gaurav focuses on the screening, diagnosis and staging of lung cancers, as well as management of malignant airway obstructions. He also provides care to patients who have pulmonary issues such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, pulmonary hypertension and others. Dr. Gaurav works in the CTCA® Lung Cancer Center as part of a multidisciplinary team of cancer experts.

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