The Stitch

Is vaping really that bad?

According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control, teen vaping rates are on the rise—again. Led by the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC, the National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that 14.1% of high school students and 3.3% of middle school students said they’d recently used an e-cigarette or other vape product. These numbers mean that about 2.5 million middle and high school students in the U.S. are vaping. Experts say what is more alarming is that more than one in four students use e-cigarettes daily.

A person outdoors, standing with a mountain range visible in the distance. The person is blowing a thick cloud of vape smoke.Dr. Ramiro Fernandez, assistant professor in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery – David J. Sugarbaker Division of Thoracic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, says that although we don’t have a lot of data on long-term effects of vaping, we do know there is acute lung injury associated with it called EVALI or e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury.

“Patients who have EVALI develop respiratory signs and symptoms including shortness of breath and decreased oxygen levels. They can develop severe and diffuse inflammation in the lungs, which could lead to death,” says Fernandez.

As of February 2020, 2,807 hospitalized EVALI cases or deaths were reported, and 68 deaths confirmed.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. In fact, a CDC study found that 99% of e-cigarettes sold in assessed venues in the United States contain nicotine. And nicotine can harm the adolescent brain, which is not fully developed until about age 25. Studies also show that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.

E-cigarettes also have other harmful substances such as ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, flavorings that are linked to serious lung disease, heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead and other cancer-causing substances.

According to the American Cancer Society, the aerosol from an e-cigarette contains substances that are addictive and can cause lung disease, heart disease and cancer. Research from Johns Hopkins University on vape ingredients published in October 2021 shows thousands of chemical ingredients in vape products, many which are not yet identified. Among those the team identified were a pesticide, three chemicals never previously found in e-cigarettes and two flavorings linked with respiratory irritation and possible toxic effects.

While some argue e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking, they are not approved by the FDA as an aid. To quit smoking, get help from your doctor or other support services like a smoking cessation program at the Baylor Medicine Thoracic Clinic.

The bottom line is vaping is not only unhealthy for teens but for adults too.

“People need to know that e-cigarettes are dangerous to your health,” says Dr. Fernandez. “While the long-term effects are unknown, the data show clear harm to cardiovascular and lung health.”

For additional information and resources, read Baylor College of Medicine’s position paper, Taking Action to Address Youth Smoking and Vaping.

By Tiffany Harston, communications associate in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine

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