Bucks Promise for Youth & Communities Op-Ed
Vaping and Teens: Is it safe?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the smoking rate in the United States decreased by nearly 20% from 2005 to 2014. Legislation, advertising restrictions, higher taxes and education have contributed to this change. Now, community prevention coalitions are concerned that the e-cigarette may reverse this downward trend. Data from the CDC and FDA reveal that youth use of e-cigarettes tripled from 2013-2014 and surpassed the use of regular cigarettes.
E-cigarettes, also known as “ENDS” (electronic nicotine delivery systems), vape pens, vape pipes, e-hookahs, and hookah pens, produce a vapor through a nicotine-infused liquid heated by a battery-powered element. When the nicotine is heated to a certain temperature, the person vaping inhales tiny particles that can deposit in the small airways of the lungs. E-cigarettes, like tobacco cigarettes, have been found to contain formaldehyde, diethylene glycol (a chemical used in antifreeze) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as toluene, a known carcinogenic. A new Harvard study identified the presence of diacetyl, a flavoring chemical, in over 75 percent of the e-cigarettes and refill e-liquid samples tested. The inhalation of this chemical was responsible for “Popcorn Lung” disease among workers at microwave popcorn manufacturing plants, causing permanent scarring of lung tissue and severe respiratory disease. In addition, nicotine, a highly addictive substance, has been shown to interfere with adolescent brain development, and to increase teens’ vulnerability to alcohol and other drug addiction.
Refill containers are not childproof. A break or spill can result in nicotine poisoning if liquid is absorbed through the skin. As vaping has grown in popularity, there has been a surge of calls to poison control centers. According to data from American Association of Poison Control Centers, 271 callers reported e-cigarette device and liquid nicotine exposures in 2011. In 2014, there were 3,957. Over half of these calls involved children under six years old. Another potential danger: the lithium battery can explode or overheat.
The tobacco advertising techniques banned by federal regulations do not apply to e-cigarettes. Billboards, radio ads, sports and celebrity sponsorships for e-cigarettes abound. There is a low perception of harm among youth regarding these products, as the word vapor implies simply water, yet ENDS actually produce an aerosol. With the exception of Philadelphia, there is currently no minimum age for purchasing e-cigarettes in Pennsylvania. The unregulated e-juice/e-liquid for vaping devices is available in flavors appealing to youth such as gummi bear and chocolate candy bar. One study identified over 7,700 e-cigarette flavors, with over 240 new flavors added monthly.
Another concern is that the device may be used to vape marijuana concentrates, which can contain up to 80% THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis. Detection is difficult because most concentrates emit very little odor, lacking the typical marijuana smell. This presents a challenge for schools and parents. Other drugs can be vaped as well.
While some may promote the e-cigarette as a quitting aid to cigarettes, there has been no conclusive scientific study to verify its contribution to long-term cessation. In fact, current data indicates that the majority of ENDS users engage in both e-cigarette and tobacco cigarettes. Furthermore, recent studies suggest that e-cigarette use among youth may lead to eventual cigarette smoking. We must exercise caution, and understand that these products have addictive potential and warrant vigilance, particularly regarding youth use.
Bucks Promise for Youth & Communities is supported by the Bucks County Commissioners and is made possible by a grant through the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, Inc. For smoking cessation resources or tobacco, alcohol and other drug information, call The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania at 1-800-221-6333 or visit www.councilsepa.org