E-cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid, usually containing nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals, into an aerosol that can be inhaled. Other names for e-cigarettes include vapes, vape-pens, e-cigs, e-hookahs, mods, and electronic nicotine delivery systems. They can look like traditional pipes, cigarettes, or cigars, or like pens, USB devices or other everyday objects. While they are often marketed as safer than cigarettes, the aerosol that is breathed in can contain harmful or potentially harmful substances such as heavy metals, ultrafine particles, volatile organic compounds, and cancer causing chemicals. It can be difficult or impossible for consumers to find out everything that’s in e-cigarette devices.
E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco products among youths and adolescents. According to the CDC in the past 30 days 4.9% of middle schoolers and 20.8% of high schoolers had used an e-cigarette device. Since e-cigarettes are relatively new scientists still don’t know all of the negative health consequences of e-cigarettes. What is known currently is that nicotine is highly addictive and toxic to both developing fetuses and adolescent brains. Because we know that brain growth continues into the mid-20s there is potential for harm well past when e-cigarettes are legal.
Additionally, since June of this year a new danger has been linked to e-cigarette use especially among youths and teens. The CDC has reported that as of the end of August, 193 cases of severe lung disease linked to e-cigarette use are being investigated. Symptoms of the illness include the gradual onset of cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue that worsens to the point of requiring hospitalization. The exact cause of the lung illness has not been determined but has definitively been linked to e-cigarette use. As of last week, there have been 16 confirmed cases and 7 probable cases in Virginia. While there are still a lot of unknowns about e-cigarette use, what is clear is that they can be harmful and potentially deadly especially in young people. Parents should talk to their pre-teen and adolescent children about the risks of e-cigarette and discourage their usage.
Alaina M. Brown, MD FAAP