Last year around this time I wrote about the hazards of first-, second- and third-hand cigarette smoke. I didn’t have the chance to talk about the potential hazards of e-cigarettes. Now is a good time to do so.

We are all aware of the hazards of cigarette smoke. However, there are a lot more questions when it comes to e-cigarettes. Often called “vaping” or “juuling,” using e-cigarettes is often advertised as a safer alternative to smoking. They have exploded in popularity, especially for adolescents (Juul Labs Inc., the industry giant, saw sales jump almost 800% from 2017 to 2018).

While the percentage of high schoolers who are smoking old-fashioned cigarettes has been decreasing, e-cigarette use is increasing. The 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey reported more than 20% of high school students and almost 5% of middle-schoolers had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. 

The big concern with this troubling trend is contrary to popular belief, e-cigarettes can still be dangerous. While we must wait for information on the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, we do know the facts about many potential dangers of these aerosolized products, along with the increased likelihood that e-cigarette users will go on to smoke traditional cigarettes in the future.

The first risk comes from the ingestion of nicotine. The development of the human brain continues until about 25 years of age. Nicotine, an addictive substance, can impair that development. In addition, the aerosolized solution inside e-cigarette pods can contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde or antifreeze, which can potentially lead to lung damage when inhaled.

One of the biggest reasons e-cigarettes have become so popular with teens is the variety of flavors available. Studies suggest the flavoring itself can be harmful. While safe to ingest, these flavorings aren’t always as safe when inhaled. In addition, second-hand vapor can be dangerous to bystanders, and while this doesn’t seem to be as bad as second-hand cigarette smoke, there aren’t enough long-term studies to confirm this. 

There have been reports of faulty e-cigarette batteries that catch fire or cause explosions, potentially causing serious injuries.

The best way to protect your teenager – or anyone else who may be using e-cigarettes – is to discuss those possible risks. It can sometimes be difficult for parents to spot e-cigarettes because they now come in so many shapes and sizes. Some are made to look like regular cigarettes, but others are made to look like everyday items, like pens or USB drives, making it easy for kids to hide them from parents and other authority figures. 

It’s important to learn to recognize these different products and to discuss the risks of any type of nicotine use, so that we don’t have to wait for the studies 50 years from now to confirm our fears about e-cigarette use.

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