Sold as a safe alternative to tobacco, electronic cigarettes have caught on with young people. Today, more adolescents “vape” than smoke.
The use of e-cigarettes among high school students jumped 900% from 2011-2015, the U.S. surgeon general said in December. The nation’s highest-ranking doctor declared teen vaping a major public health threat.
Dr. Gregory Omlor, director of Akron Children’s Division of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine, said there are concerns and many unanswered questions about the devices, which heat liquid containing nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals to create vapor.
Nicotine can affect the brains of adolescents, and the liquid solution in e-cigarettes contains potentially harmful chemicals, including carcinogens.
“Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that’s been shown to have an affect on teenagers’ brains, and can lead to more addictive behaviors,” Dr. Omlor said.
The effects of inhaling various chemicals and flavorings in e-cigarettes have not been studied, he said. Because the industry hasn’t been regulated, different chemicals used by manufacturers are not publicly known.
The surgeon general said the aerosol from e-cigarettes “can contain harmful and potentially harmful chemicals, including nicotine; ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs; flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead.”
Scientists are investigating the health effects on users, as well as those exposed to the aerosol secondhand.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016 said it would regulate e-cigarettes. Dr. Omlor said that is a major step forward.
“Kids and parents need to know there are potential dangers,” he said. “A lot of people think e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes, and they aren’t necessarily safer.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that tobacco and e-cigarettes not be sold to anyone under 21.