What you Need to Know about e-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes have addictive nicotine. CDC has issued a health advisory after an outbreak of severe lung disease. Learn how to quit and find resources.

JUUL™, vapes, e-cigs, tanks, mods, e-hookahs, and dab pens are all terms related to electronic delivery of nicotine and other chemicals. The delivery systems may look like electronic cigarettes or may resemble common household items like flash drives, pens, or flashlights. This makes it difficult for onlookers, parents, and school staff to identify them. They work by heating up a liquid solution containing flavoring (usually dissolved into propylene glycol and/or glycerin), as well as nicotine and other chemicals to turn it into an aerosol which is inhaled (called vaping). The possible health hazards of this activity are not known, however there have been a number of recent suspicious cases in the United States associated with vaping.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an official health advisory regarding the use of electronic cigarettes after an outbreak of severe lung disease. As of October 15, 2019, thirty three people have died and 1,479 cases of vaping injuries have been reported to the CDC.

Why the surge in popularity of e-cigarettes?

Vaping has become a common activity among young people. One survey found 42.5 percent of high school seniors had tried it, and students say that “the bathrooms at school are full of kids vaping.” One reason is that vape cartridges are marketed with flavors, names, and descriptions that sound and taste appealing, especially to kids. They often come in fruit and candy flavors.

The appeal is combined with a teenager’s perception that consequences of smoking are 20 years or more down the road, so what’s the harm? Research has shown that developing adolescent brains are more vulnerable to nicotine and therefore early use may lead to increased addiction, impaired attention and memory, and other adverse health effects, such as increasing the risk of psychiatric disorders.

Misdirected marketing

There’s also been misleading marketing that e-cigarettes might help people quit smoking. Advertisements for e-cigarettes have suggested that they are a “safe alternative” to regular cigarette smoking, appealing to cigarette smokers who are trying to quit.

The truth is that e-cigarettes are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a smoking cessation tool, and research suggests that people who use e-cigarettes to overcome nicotine addiction are often unsuccessful. (One study found that e-cigarette use may lower the odds of an individual quitting smoking combustible tobacco products by 28%*.) Many people do not even realize that e-cigarettes contain addictive nicotine, but think that flavoring is the only ingredient.

Some products also carry claims that they are nicotine-free or have lower levels of the nicotine, but these claims were found to be false in product testing. People may actually be consuming more nicotine when vaping, compared to cigarettes. The amount of nicotine in a traditional cigarette is a measurable unit, while inhaling one JUUL pod may be equal to consuming about 20 cigarettes (an entire pack). JUUL and similar products also contain a significantly higher amount of nicotine per puff than traditional cigarettes, which makes them likely to be even more addictive.

What are the health hazards of e-cigarettes?

Besides the addictive aspect of nicotine, which raises blood pressure and increases adrenalin (increasing your chances of a heart attack), e-cigarettes may also contain:

  • Ultrafine particles that are inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavoring such as diacetyl (linked to serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans)
  • Volatile organic compounds, which, according to the American Cancer Society, may result in eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and injury to liver, kidney, and nervous system
  • Heavy metals such at nickel, tin, and lead
  • Formaldehyde, a cancer-causing agent that may form if e-liquid overheats or not enough liquid reaches the heating element
  • Other additives: The CDC has not pinpointed which substance(s) are causing the lung damage or fatalities noted above, but urges particular caution with products that have additives like cannabinoids (THC). Vitamin E acetate, which is used as a solvent for THC, is a substance that is also being studied. Little is known about the effects of inhaling this chemical. Vape retailers blame products purchased off the street or those with added substances for causing the lung disease and deaths.

Resources for emergencies, quitting, and controlled use

Think about those around you and, if using vaping products, make sure to keep e-liquids away from kids and pets to avoid poisoning. If you or someone you care about uses e-cigarettes and experiences any respiratory symptoms, please seek appropriate medical care right away.

For students under 18 who vape, My Life, My Quit is a free, confidential resource, and can be accessed by texting or through a live chat feature.

Other resources include 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), which connects to the free telephonic cessation service provided by your state. Smokefree.gov and teen.smokefree.gov are online resources.

BeneQUIT Tobacco Cessation Program

If you have employees trying to stop smoking cigarettes or e-cigarettes, the CDC recommends evidence based treatments including counseling and FDA-approved medications. Our program is a resource based on these methods that employers can use to support employees who want to quit. 

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