Education

e-Cigs and Vaping: Know the Major Health Risks

Nicotine is a very addictive chemical and remains widelyavailable in the form of traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes, andnow in e-cigarettes, or “vaping” devices. Everyone is well aware thatcigarettes, which contain a range of cancer-causing chemicals, is the top riskfactor for lung cancer and a contributor to heart disease and other chronicconditions. The possible link between vaping products and cancer has yet to beestablished because e-cigarettes have been on the market for just a few years.

But there is one thing all health consumers shouldunderstand. Nicotine — whether it’s dispensed in a traditional cigarette or ina vape pen or other vaping device, is not by any means healthy. Before anyoneconsiders using any sort of tobacco or vape product, they should know that theyboth 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. Butin some vaping products, you can adjust the heat intensity which vaporizes theliquid and also the flow of the liquid through the vape “pen” or cartridge. Thisincreases the potency of the nicotine delivered to the lungs of the user. Thisis why vaping products can be so highly addictive for new users, especiallyteenagers or young adults. They are more addictive than standard nicotineproducts.

Vaping companies are under stricter scrutiny by U.S. andstate regulators because they are marketing vaping products that provide sweetflavorings — and these appeal mostly to young people. Many states have bannedthese flavored e-cigs and the FDA is finalizing a nationwide compliance policyfor companies that produce and market vaping products. But the agency has beencriticized for not moving fast enough as the use of e-cigs has increasedsignificantly among young adults and adolescents over the last two to threeyears.

Unfortunately, we still don’t know what the full healthramifications are from the long-term use of vaping products because theyhaven’t been around long enough. But we know that nicotine is a dangerousstimulant. And that should be enough knowledge to keep people from vaping orsmoking any nicotine delivery product.

The author, MarkDylewski, M.D., is chief of general thoracic surgery at Miami Cancer Institute.

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