Vaping and Tobacco: What You And Your Family Should Know

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E-cigarettes or vapes, are devices that create a vapor or aerosol of a nicotine-based substance. But unlike cigarettes, vapes do not create smoke so their use is less obvious to those around the person vaping. Moreover, many healthcare professionals are becoming increasingly alarmed at the popularity of vaping because the vapor that is released actually contains particles that have been linked to cancer and lung and heart disease.

Here at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we have years of experience helping parents guide their teens to make good decisions and stay healthy. To learn about the many other services we offer parents, click here.

Vaping is becoming more and more attractive to teens

Cindee J. Ivker, MD, FAAP

Originally developed to help smokers quit the use of traditional cigarettes, vape pods have reached a new teen market. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has denounced e-cigarettes as an “epidemic” among teenagers, reporting that the use of e-cigarettes among adolescents has skyrocketed in recent years.

While fewer American teens are smoking cigarettes, more of them are vaping instead, a new report shows. And what makes vaping more popular? The variety
of flavors which the manufacturers add to the base of the device to lure young people (such as chocolate, strawberry, cherry, mint, fruit medley, Virginia tobacco and crème brûlée).

JUUL is the most commonly used name for nicotine pod products. They are small and discreet and can easily be hidden from the untrained eye. Some JUUL products resemble a computer flash drive and can even be used in a classroom setting without being obvious. In fact, according to a 2018 Truth Initiative survey, almost 1 in 5 of middle and high schoolers (20%) have seen JUULs used in school.

What is in an e-cigarette and what are the effects on the teen body?

Did you know that the amount of nicotine in an e-cigarette nicotine pod is equal to the amount of nicotine in a pack of 20 cigarettes? Plus, because the teen brain is still developing, teen users are more susceptible to the addictive nature of nicotine. As a result, there is a concern that early use of vaping will impact negatively on adult cognitive function.

So what exactly is in an e-cigarette?

  1. Nicotine. No matter what tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturers might report, nicotine is a very harmful, very dangerous drug. It affects the brain, nervous system and heart. The larger the dose of nicotine, the more a person’s blood pressure and heart rate go up, which 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.
  1. Propylene glycol, the chemical that allows the nicotine to be vaped or inhaled, can cause lung and eye irritation. It is not clear what long-term effects propylene glycol has on the lungs.
  1. Aluminum, when inhaled, can cause a chemical-induced pneumonia. In teens, aluminum has also been reported to damage developing bone. 
  1. Cadmium, which is also in batteries, causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. 
  1. Silver causes breathing problems, lung and throat irritation, and stomach pain. 
  1. Lead when inhaled can result in nerve damage and digestive issues. 
  1. Diacetyl, also found in butter-flavored microwave popcorn, when inhaled can cause scarring of the lungs. “Popcorn lung” is the scarring of the tiny air sacs in the lungs and will result in wheezing, coughing and/or shortness of breath.
  2. Benzoic acid is a naturally occurring acid found in the tobacco plant. When inhaled, it can cause irritation to the nose, throat and lungs, which like diacetyl, may cause coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath.

Vaping pods are flavored to enhance their appeal

The majority of teen users think they are vaping only flavoring and not nicotine. The addition of the flavoring enhances the appeal of the product while increasing its consumption.

However, what we now know is that the use of vaping pods is addictive!!! Scientists are still learning about the long-term effects of vaping on the body but we do know that, like cigarettes, there is an increased risk of lung cancer, heart disease and infection (when the devices are shared with others).

JUULs and nicotine pods are easy to get

JUULs can be purchased online, in retail stores and through friends. By law, people under the age of 18 (or 21 in some areas) should not be able to purchase any tobacco products, including JUUL, but we know that it happens.

The good news

As of November 2018, JUUL Labs announced that it would suspend sales of most of its flavored e-cigarette pods in retail stores and would discontinue its social media promotions, facing mounting government pressure and a public backlash over an epidemic of teenage vaping, reports The New York Times.

What parents need to know

Detecting and monitoring the use of a JUUL or nicotine pod can be difficult. Their design makes it easy to hide and its lack of noxious smoke makes it difficult to detect its active use.

This means that once your child starts using a vape, it is hard to get them to stop. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we strongly urge you to talk to your teen about smoking abstinence in any form whether it is a cigarette, e-cigarette, vape, JUUL or hookah.

Talk to your teen

  1. Be direct and tell him/her why vaping is really damaging to their health
  2. Give them the facts about lung cancer, safety issues and the long-term effect on their brain, heart and lungs
  3. Reinforce that the use of vapes are addictive like other drugs and alcohol
  4. Stress the social issues and financial impact on users
  5. Teach them to say “NO”
  6. Come to us for help—at WHP we are here for you

To learn more

For more information on the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes, you might find these articles helpful:

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

If you’re worried that your child is vaping now or might start, please come in and see one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. Together with you and your child, we will figure out the best way forward. If needed, we will also help your child find the right support network to stop vaping. As always, our #1 goal is to help your child stay healthy and happy, in any way we can. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Cindee J. Ivker, MD, FAAP, a practicing pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball