Vaping is on the rise; risks aren’t known
Dear Doctor: My grandson is always carrying around a little device that he smokes like a cigarette. It puffs smoke just like one, too. I’m a former smoker, and my lungs aren’t in great shape, so I’m worried. What is he using? Is it safe?
Dear Reader: Your grandson is vaping, inhaling an aerosol produced by the device. It’s that aerosol, or vapor, that gives the practice its name.
E-cigarettes were the vanguard of vaping devices and first appeared in this country in 2007. They quickly gave way to vape pens, slim devices that resemble a ballpoint pen. Larger and bulkier in size are vape mods, or modified vape pens. These are known for abundant vapor production. More recent to the marketplace is the JUUL, a small vaping device about the size of a USB drive.
Whatever the device, most use disposable pods or cartridges that hold a liquid, typically propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin. These can contain other compounds, but manufacturers are not required to divulge them.
When heated, the liquid produces the vapor that the user is inhaling and exhaling. Most e-liquids contain nicotine, along with flavorings such as strawberry, banana, chocolate or mint. The allure of those flavorings to young people has been particularly controversial, and the outcry has resulted in a number of actions at the state and federal levels to limit their availability.
The general consensus is that vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes. That’s because rather than the tens of thousands of compounds produced in the burning of tobacco and its additives, many of them toxic, the number of ingredients in e-liquids is limited. However, many teens and young adults who would not otherwise have taken up smoking are finding the tech and the flavors of vaping alluring. It is estimated 20 percent of high schoolers and 5 percent of middle school students have tried vaping, more than a third of them unaware that the product contains nicotine.
Nicotine poses a real health risk to young people, whose brains and bodies are still developing. Studies have linked vaping to hypertension, increased heart attack risk, slow wound healing, lung inflammation, and increased likelihood of moving on to smoking tobacco. The Food and Drug Administration says vaping is not safe for young people. We would end the sentence after the word “safe.”