The Dangers of Vaping

man sitting on couch, vapingThe popularity of vaping has boomed in the last few years, to the point where last year the U.S. surgeon general declared vaping amongst young adults and teens an “epidemic”. Dr. Subroto Paul, the RWJBarnabas Health system lead for Thoracic Surgery and a Barnabas Health Medical Group provider with a specialty in treating lung cancer discusses the dangers of vaping, specifically for teens and examines whether vaping is truly a safer alternative to smoking. The symptoms of the vape-related lung illness reported included difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and in some cases even vomiting and diarrhea.

What is Vaping?

“Vaping is essentially inhaling a vapor created by a device such as an electronic cigarette,” said Dr. Paul.

Dr. Paul explains that vapes or e-cigarettes produce a vapor by heating a liquid, flavoring and other chemicals. Individuals then inhale this heated liquid into their lungs. Vapes generally contain nicotine, but not always. They can also contain marijuana and other drugs.

“The FDA is currently trying to regulate who can buy vapes, but at this point the purchase of vape products are regulated by individual states,” said Dr. Paul.

In New Jersey, the sale or distribution of electronic smoking devices to people under the age of 21 is prohibited. Unfortunately, much younger individuals are finding ways to get their hands on these harmful products.

The Dangers of Vaping

Vaping is often considered an alternative to smoking, but while it may not have the same known carcinogens that are found in cigarettes, it doesn’t mean vapes are safe.

“By inhaling any heated substance, you put your lungs at risk,” said Dr. Paul. “Also, vaping fluid contains oils that if not completely removed when heated, can seriously damage your lungs.

According to Dr. Paul, most vapes contain nicotine as well, which is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development. And there have also been reported cases of defective vaping batteries causing fires and explosions, both when being charged and when being used close to the face.

“The liquid added to these e-cigarettes presents another risk because it can be dangerous when swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin or eyes,” added Dr. Paul.

In terms of the connection between vaping and lung cancer, Dr. Paul admits that they do not yet know definitively whether vaping can lead to lung cancer because the devices haven’t been around long enough for proper studies.

“Although vapes do not have some of the other known carcinogens that cause lung cancer in cigarettes, they do have other contaminants: flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical with known links to lung disease, heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead, among other harmful substances.”

Vaping and Teens

The popularity of vaping among teens might be because the dangers of using vapes are misleading.

“It’s much how like cigarettes were sold in the past,” said Dr. Paul. “Flavored vaping products are promoted as a trendy and cool, marketed with catchy names and packaged in a USB device or even light up, which can easily attract susceptible teens.”

Teens may also believe that just because the vapor does not have the same smoke smell as cigarettes that they’re okay to use. But Dr. Paul warns that they can easily lead to future cigarette smoking.

“If you become addicted to nicotine through these vaping products, then you can definitely graduate to cigarettes,” said Dr. Paul. “These e-cigarettes were designed to be a substitute for tobacco products, but they are highly addictive. Teens can easily become addicted to nicotine by using vapes and run the risk causing irreparable damage to their lungs. And even the vapes without nicotine in them can damage the lungs.”

Parents can play an important role in preventing their kids from picking up these dangerous habits, though.

“It starts with a candid conversation with your child about the dangers of vaping as well as any type of substance use,” said Dr. Paul. “Provide them with the facts: it’s addictive, unregulated, damages your lungs by inhaling metals and other harmful substances. Be diligent and hopefully, they’ll never start.”

If you are interested in learning more about quitting a nicotine addiction or helping a loved one quitting a nicotine addiction, RWJBarnabas Health’s Institute for Prevention and Recovery has a free program. For more information click here, call 833-795-QUIT or email QuitCenter@rwjbh.org.