If you were under the impression that e-cigarettes and vaping were harmless alternatives to smoking – think again. Reports of serious respiratory illnesses linked to vaping are popping up across the country.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported more than 200 cases of vaping related illnesses. Some of these instances include young patients being put on mechanical ventilators to breathe. There’s even been one death reported with a potential link to vaping.
“Very little is known about the long-term effects of vaping,” says adolescent medicine specialist Ellen Rome, MD, MPH. “As these illnesses come into focus, we’re learning more and starting to see that their impact mirrors traditional cigarettes.”
Research suggests that nicotine exposure during teen years disrupts the brain’s neurotransmitter systems. This can lead to long-term changes in cognitive development and even decreased memory capacity.
But thanks to alluring marketing campaigns and flavors, tweens, teenagers and young adults are becoming addicted to nicotine at an alarming rate.
According to one study, 78% of high schoolers have used e-cigarettes, as have 48% of middle schoolers.
Lung specialist Humberto Choi, MD, says that the vaping craze is pushing nicotine addiction on younger and younger people. And it’s officially time to worry.
But isn’t vaping better than smoking?
Vaping is not a harmless alternative to smoking.
“The most popular e-cigarette on the market contains almost three times the nicotine as a single pack of cigarettes,” explains Dr. Rome. “But unlike cigarettes, which are smoked one-by-one and have a clear starting and stopping point, e-cigarettes can be puffed on continuously – further adding to the danger of addiction.”
While it’s true that these devices don’t contain tar and tobacco, the high nicotine content gives an alarming number of teens and young adults their first exposure to the highly addictive stimulant.
“We know from decades of scientific research, once you begin using any nicotine-based product, it can be extremely difficult to stop,” says Dr. Choi. “Our society is at a critical moment in which we need to learn from our history with cigarettes and act accordingly.”
The CDC and FDA are now urging people who vape not to buy products off the street, and to seek medical attention if they have trouble breathing or have chest pain.
It’s clear to medical experts that e-cigarettes are an epidemic and need to be regarded in the same manner as traditional cigarettes.
How to stop the vaping epidemic
Many of the tactics that worked to effectively impact traditional smoking rates could work to slow down the vaping craze:
- Take away the taste. E-cigarettes appeal to many young users because they come in popular flavors, such as mint, mango and menthol. The FDA has proposed guidelines in this area, which call for most flavors to be eliminated.
- Raise prices. Severely taxing the sale of cigarettes has helped reduce usage throughout the nation. Similar pricing initiatives could have the same impact on e-cigarettes.
- Raise the legal age. Some states have raised the age to 21 to legally purchase cigarettes, cigars, vaping devices and other tobacco products.
- Magnify the consequences. Mass marketing campaigns have been effective in spreading the word about dangerous products or practices in the past.
- Help users stop. Encourage those who use e-cigarettes to join a smoking cessation program.
- Role models. Because teens and young adults can be easily influenced, parents and adult influencers should not engage in vaping.
“We can put a stop to the rapid increase in vaping and e-cigarette use,” says Dr. Choi. “Our society battled cigarette smoking for decades. We need to take what we learned and apply it to this new form of nicotine addiction.”