How Dangerous Are E-Cigarettes/Vaping?

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Many people, especially teens, think that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking. Unfortunately, this is just not true. E-cigarettes are just another way of absorbing nicotine—a highly addictive drug—into your body.

What exactly are e-cigarettes?

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery-powered smoking devices often designed to look and feel like regular cigarettes. They work by using cartridges filled with a liquid that contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. A heating device then converts this liquid into a vapor, which the person inhales. This is why using e-cigarettes is known as “vaping.”

Because e-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco, people don’t inhale the same amounts of tar and carbon monoxide as they would with a regular cigarette. But anyone using an e-cigarette is still putting an unhealthy dose of nicotine and other chemicals into their lungs.

Smoking is on the decline but vaping is on the rise

The good news is that the rates for adolescents smoking tobacco have dipped slightly. The bad news is that e-cigarette use in middle and high school students has tripled. In fact, a National Youth Tobacco Survey estimated that in 2014, 2 million high school students (13.4%) used e-cigarettes compared to 6.5% in the previous year. This was the first time that e-cigarette use surpassed traditional cigarettes. A 2012 study reported that 75% of teens who smoke continue into adulthood.

Not a way to stop smoking, despite the marketing messages

Electronic cigarettes are marketed to smokers as a way to help them quit, but there’s no evidence that they actually help people stop smoking. Instead, they have actually been found to be a health risk for people who use them, as well as for bystanders who breathe in the secondhand vapor (which comes out of the device as well as exhaled from the user’s mouth) and third-hand vapor (which sticks to surfaces such as upholstery, clothing, bedding and floors).

The very real health dangers of e-cigarettes

Even though e-cigarettes do not fill the lungs with harmful smoke, they are not a healthy alternative to regular cigarettes.

  1. When you vape, (use an e-cigarette), you’re still putting nicotine—which is absorbed into the bloodstream through your lungs—into your body. In addition to being a highly addictive drug, nicotine is also toxic in high doses. (It used to be used as an insecticide to kill bugs.) There have even been fatal cases when the nicotine liquid in e-cigarettes has been ingested or absorbed through the skin.
  2. Nicotine affects your brain, nervous system and heart. It raises blood pressure and heart rate. The larger the dose of nicotine, the more a person’s blood pressure and heart rate go up. This can cause an abnormal heart rate (arrhythmia). In rare cases, especially when large doses of nicotine are involved, arrhythmias can cause heart failure and death.
  3. After its initial effects wear off, the body starts to crave nicotine. You might feel depressed, tired and irritable (known as nicotine withdrawal), and crave more nicotine to perk up again. Over time, nicotine use can lead to serious medical problems, including heart disease, blood clots and stomach ulcers.

7 best ways to stop smoking, either regular cigarettes or e-cigarettes

Because nicotine is so addictive, the best way to quit smoking or stop using e-cigarettes is not to start. But if you smoke and want to quit, e-cigarettes probably aren’t your best option.

Using an e-cigarette mimics the experience of smoking tobacco cigarettes more closely than other quitting options (like nicotine gum or patches). You don’t want to give up smoking only to find you’re now hooked on e-cigarettes.

From our years of experience here at Westchester Health Pediatrics helping our patients quit smoking (either tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarettes), here are the 7 steps that have proven to produce the best results:

  1. Make a specific plan. Set a date to begin the quitting process. If you smoke cigarettes, try quitting altogether before relying on e-cigarettes to help. If that doesn’t work, create a specific goal, such as using one less e-cigarette a day for a week. Keep cutting back until you no longer smoke or vape.
  2. Stay busy. Take your mind off cigarettes by exercising or doing something that involves your hands, like drawing, playing music or basketball. Be aware of specific times and situations that make you want cigarettes (like at a party or after a meal), and come up with a plan to handle those times.
  3. Delay giving in to a craving. When you crave a cigarette or e-cigarette, put off giving in to the urge. Sometimes it’s easier to wait than to tell yourself “no.” Do something else to take your mind off the craving.
  4. Keep focused on why you want to quit. Write down all the reasons you want to stop using cigarettes or e-cigarettes, like the money you’ll save or the extra energy you’ll have or how much better you’ll feel. Keep the list where you can see it. Read it every day, even though you already know the reasons. Doing this helps your brain automatically remind you of a reason when you feel a strong craving.
  5. Get support. Turn to your family or a trusted friend or doctor for moral support when you really want a cigarette. It also helps strengthen your resolve to tell other people that you are quitting. If you don’t want friends and family to know you smoke or use e-cigarettes, join an online or in-person support group. See if friends will join you in quitting. If not, ask them not to smoke or use e-cigarettes in front of you.
  6. Be good to yourself. Believe in yourself and give yourself lots of praise each time you avoid reaching for a cigarette. Remember, you’re doing this for you: your life, your health and your future.
  7. Nicotine is an addictive drug. It’s not easy to stop using it once you’ve started. That’s why we stress that the best strategy is to never start smoking or vaping in the first place. If it’s too late for that, remind yourself that it is possible to quit. You can do it. You really can.

Important information and resources:

Concerned that your teen is smoking, vaping or might start soon? Come see us.

If you’re worried that your child is smoking, either tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarettes, or might start smoking, please come in and see one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. Together, we’ll talk it out with you and your child, and together figure out the best way forward. If needed, we’ll also help your child find the right support network to stop smoking. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball