Nearly 11 million American adults use e-cigarettes, and more than half of them are under the age of 35, according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Furthermore, a third of people who vape do so daily. Unfortunately, many of them are unaware of the consequences of using e-cigarettes, including addiction. Here’s a closer look at the many dangers associated with this growing trend.
The Dangers of Vaping
E-cigarettes, which go by many names, including e-cigs, vapes, vape pens, e-hookahs and more, are battery-powered devices which work when a chemically-laden liquid is heated into an aerosol, which the user inhales and exhales. While they were first touted by their inventor for their potential to “provide a safe and harmless means for and method of smoking” when he applied for a patent more than half a decade ago, we now know very different.
For starters, e-cigarette liquid usually contains many chemicals, including nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin, flavorings, and other chemicals. “Nicotine is the addictive drug found in regular cigarettes and other tobacco products. Research shows that e-cigarette aerosol often contains substances that can be harmful, including flavoring chemicals (like diacetyl, which is linked to lung disease), metals (like lead), and other cancer-causing chemicals,” explains smokefree.gov.
Even worse? While e-cigarettes are regulated to some degree by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there’s a shortfall of information about them and how they’re used. As scientists undertake more research, additional regulations may be forthcoming about the potential health risks of e-cigarettes. Until then, users are at the mercy of the existing information or lack thereof.
Vaping and Addiction
Many people turn to e-cigarettes because they think they’re not addictive. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only do e-cigarettes usually contain nicotine, but even vape products that claim to be nicotine-free have been determined to contain this harmful chemical.
Explains the National Institute on Drug Abuse of how e-cigarettes impact the brain, “The nicotine in e-liquids is readily absorbed from the lungs into the bloodstream when a person uses an e-cigarette. Upon entering the blood, nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). Epinephrine stimulates the central nervous system and increases blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate.”
In this sense, the nicotine in e-cigarettes is no different than most addictive substances. It increases levels of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine and activates the reward circuits of the brain. The resulting pleasure motivates continued use despite the risks.
For these reasons, nicotine use is harmful to the brain and its development, especially in young people. Speaking of young people and e-cigarettes, they’re particularly vulnerable to the phenomenon. Not only are they more likely to use e-cigarettes than cigarettes, but teen e-cig users are more likely than their peers to start smoking, according to NIDA. A full 66 percent of them think e-cigs only contain flavoring and only 13.2 percent of them know they contain nicotine. In other words, they’re woefully unaware of the potential dangers of vaping.
Asserts Michael Dunbar, a behavioral scientist at nonprofit research organization RAND, “For young people, using these products may actually lead to more harm in the long run. This highlights the importance of taking steps to prevent youth from vaping in the first place. One way to do this could be to limit e-cigarette and other tobacco advertising in kid-accessible spaces.”
In addition to young people, certain minority populations are at particular risk of e-cigarette use and its dangers, including unemployed adults and members of the LGBT community. “It is becoming clear that specific vulnerable groups are at highest risk of adopting electronic cigarettes,” says Dr. Michael Blaha, who heads up clinical research for the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease in Baltimore.
Think switching from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes will help you quit smoking? Think again. E-cigarettes aren’t FDA-approached as a quit smoking aid, nor is there significant evidence attesting to their effectiveness when it comes to helping smokers kick the habit.
The takeaway? While the jury is still out on whether e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, they’re still far from harmless. In fact, at least in part because of their perceived innocuousness, researchers have determined that the nicotine they contain may be “a gateway to the use of marijuana and cocaine” — regardless of whether the exposure comes from smoking or vaping. “Our data suggest that effective interventions would not only prevent smoking and its negative health consequences but also decrease the risk of progressing to illicit drug use and addiction,” the research concludes.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse and addiction, recovery is possible. Contact us at leading St. Louis area treatment facility Harris House today to learn more about our substance abuse and addiction programs.