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Understanding the Dangers of Vaping

Get the facts about e-cigarettes and learn why vaping is just as harmful as smoking

Despite their health risks, vaping devices like these electronic cigarettes have become increasingly popular among teens and young adults.

Get the facts about e-cigarettes and learn why vaping is just as harmful as smoking

Studies show that electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are popular among teens, and are the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018 more than 3.6 million U.S. middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days — 4.9% of middle school students and 20.8% of high school students.


Vaping, or inhaling the vapor produced by e-cigarettes, vape pens or other battery-powered smoking devices, is not just a growing trend among teens. Adults have also taken up nicotine vaping, sometimes with the incorrect assumption that it’s healthier than tobacco. While nicotine certainly poses heightened risks to young people, it’s highly addictive and unhealthy at any age. 


Jacqueline Chang, MD, a Scripps Clinic pulmonologist, and Brian Scull, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest, explain the risks by answering several frequently asked questions about vaping.


Are all vape devices the same?

Vape devices may look like a USB flash drive, a pen, a little box or a miniature hookah. And whether you call it a vaporizer, vape or e-cigarette, they all do the same thing: vaporize a solution generally containing nicotine, as well as flavorings and/or other chemicals.


Is vaping better than smoking?

Vaping lacks the tar and some other components of cigarette smoke. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safer, though. Nicotine is dangerous on its own and makes vaping highly addictive, Dr. Chang says. Vape liquids usually contain a host of additives with their own significant and often unknown risks. 


“There’s no standardization in the amount of nicotine, and no accountability of what’s in these additives and flavors,” says Dr. Chang. “We know some byproducts of these chemicals, one of which is formaldehyde, can be very bad. And nicotine is likely the reason smoking is linked to many kinds of vascular disease, heart disease, stroke and increased blood pressure. It can have effects on the body’s whole vasculature.”


Does vaping help to quit smoking?

No—in fact, the opposite may be true. “Most studies show it’s not more effective than other methods to stop smoking, and the nicotine could actually worsen addiction,” Dr. Chang says.


Is vaping regulated by the FDA?

No. The only regulated aspect of vaping is the marketing. The FDA doesn’t regulate what’s in vaping devices. It does not mean they’re safe, approved or standardized.


What are the dangers of vaping for young people?

Like smoking cigarettes, vaping is harmful from the prenatal stage on. 


“Negative effects of nicotine have been noticed in the nervous system of developing fetuses, children and young adults up to 25 years,” Dr. Scull says. “It’s associated with sudden infant death syndrome, has a negative impact on learning, memory and attention, and increases health problems later in life.” 


Kids who vape are also more likely to smoke. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, early evidence suggests e-cigarette use may serve as an introductory product for preteens and teens who then go on to use other tobacco products, including traditional cigarettes. One study showed that students who had used e-cigarettes by the time they started 9th grade were more likely than others to start smoking cigarettes and other smokable tobacco products within the next year.

The cover of the September 2019 issue of San Diego Health Magazine.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.