Nicotine is a very addictive chemical and remains widely available in the form of traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes, and now in e-cigarettes, or “vaping” devices. Everyone is well aware that cigarettes, which contain a range of cancer-causing chemicals, is the top risk factor for lung cancer and a contributor to heart disease and other chronic conditions. The possible link between vaping products and cancer has yet to be established because e-cigarettes have been on the market for just a few years.
But there is one thing all health consumers should understand. Nicotine — whether it’s dispensed in a traditional cigarette or in a vape pen or other vaping device, is not by any means healthy. Before anyone considers using any sort of tobacco or vape product, they should know that they both present significant health risks.
National and state health officials are currently trying to determine the exact cause of an outbreak of lung-related illnesses and deaths tied to vaping products across the country. One thing seems certain — the majority of cases have been linked to vaping products that carry THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant. THC is present in most of the samples tested by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to date, and most patients report a history of using THC-containing products, many of which are purchased from third-parties.
Vaping products, or e-cigs, entered the market a few years ago with the initial intent of helping current smokers of traditional tobacco products quit the habit with a less potent nicotine product as a “bridge” to a healthier lifestyle. But the big problem with vaping devices is the adjustable intensity of the nicotine delivery. And this component is helping fuel widespread use among teenagers who somehow obtain the vaping devices — even though these products are not supposed to be sold to minors.
A traditional cigarette has a finite amount of nicotine. But in some vaping products, you can adjust the heat intensity which vaporizes the liquid and also the flow of the liquid through the vape “pen” or cartridge. This increases the potency of the nicotine delivered to the lungs of the user. This is why vaping products can be so highly addictive for new users, especially teenagers or young adults. They are more addictive than standard nicotine products.
Vaping companies are under stricter scrutiny by U.S. and state regulators because they are marketing vaping products that provide sweet flavorings — and these appeal mostly to young people. Many states have banned these flavored e-cigs and the FDA is finalizing a nationwide compliance policy for companies that produce and market vaping products. But the agency has been criticized for not moving fast enough as the use of e-cigs has increased significantly among young adults and adolescents over the last two to three years.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know what the full health ramifications are from the long-term use of vaping products because they haven’t been around long enough. But we know that nicotine is a dangerous stimulant. And that should be enough knowledge to keep people from vaping or smoking any nicotine delivery product.
The author, Mark Dylewski, M.D., is chief of general thoracic surgery at Miami Cancer Institute.