In an era when teens are ingesting Tide pods and participating in other mind-boggling social media challenges to garner the largest amount of likes on their pages, health officials are having to issue warnings about things that we all know are unhealthy. While those challenges are more extreme, these experts have also recently warned against what many believe to be a harmless habit that has grown in popularity among today’s youth: vaping.
From the brain to the lungs – get to know all the health risks.
The trend began as heavy smokers, often adults, were looking for ways to cut back or quit smoking completely. An electronic cigarette, which is a device that heats a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales, made smoking feel safer. The odorless vapor that it produced also made it easier to smoke more discreetly, both indoors and outdoors.
Eventually, teens jumped on board with vaping because it was easier for them to get electronic cigarettes and vaping liquid online than traditional cigarettes at a store. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration reported that more than 2 million middle and high school students were electronic cigarette users in 2016.
While vaping seems safe to many, it’s just as bad for your health as smoking. Electronic cigarettes are considered tobacco products because the liquid contains nicotine. The flavored liquid, which is a draw for many teenage users, typically contains a third to a half of the amount of nicotine that is found in a traditional cigarette.
The U.S. surgeon general warns that youth and young adults are at risk for long-term, long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine, such as addiction, mood disorders and permanent lowering of impulse control, until approximately age 25. Additionally, synapses (or strong connections that are formed between brain cells when a new memory is created or a new skill is learned) are built faster in adolescent brains. Nicotine that is inhaled through vaping can significantly change the way in which these synapses are formed, affecting the portion of the brain that controls attention and learning.
But nicotine isn’t the only harmful ingredient that vapers need to worry about. A 2016 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report listed others, including volatile organic compounds such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust; heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead; and flavorings like diacetyl, which has been linked to a serious lung disease known as popcorn lung.
Those flavorings, which come in menthol, fruit and chocolate varieties, appeal to 85 percent of electronic cigarette users between the ages of 12 and 17, according to the report, which also found that electronic cigarette use is higher among high school students than adults.
The U.S. surgeon general has a strong warning regarding the harmful effects of electronic cigarette use on a website dedicated to sharing the risks: “No matter how it’s delivered, nicotine is addictive and harmful for youth and adults.”
Think about that next time you take a puff from your electronic cigarette.