Spotlight on Vaping
Stories have been on the news about the consequences of vaping – stories of young people in the hospital fighting for their lives, stories of those who did not survive, and stories of those who survived but pledge to never pick up an e-cig again. I recently attended the Lone Star Health Summit for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents from northeast and central Texas. One of the sessions caught my attention – Spotlight on Vaping.
The term vaping refers to inhaling and exhaling vapor (or more precisely aerosol) from an electronic vaping device or electronic cigarette (e-cigarette). These are battery-powered nicotine delivery devices in various designs. Each e-cig contains a small lithium ion battery that heats a liquid solution held in the cartridge and produces a fog-like aerosol that is drawn into the lungs and exhaled through the mouth and nose. The most common solution is nicotine mixed with propylene glycol (to help create a vapor), vegetable glycerin (to preserve the ingredients), other solvents, and may contain impurities, carcinogens, insecticides, toxic chemicals, and poisons. While many states have limited e-cig sales to adults only, they are readily available to minors.
E-cigs are often marketed toward young people. The devices are bright colors and contain cartridges with flavors like desserts and candy. While these flavors – such as Jolly Rancher®, cotton candy, or bubblegum – sound delicious, it is important to remember that nicotine is a dangerously addictive chemical in disguise. One JUUL pod contains 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine. Nicotine is a neurotoxin that is particularly dangerous to young, still-developing brains. Experts warn that nicotine use can establish patterns that leave young people vulnerable to addiction to other substances. Some of the cartridges may say that they do not contain nicotine, but since they are not regulated by the government, it is impossible to know for sure. The majority of e-cigarettes contain nicotine.
Some young people are using e-cigarettes to smoke marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in marijuana that makes users high. The push to legalize marijuana does not mean that it is good for you. Some states are legalizing medical THC to help build patients dealing with painful diseases like cancer. If you don’t have cancer or another painful disease, there is no reason to use THC. Many substances are legal, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. Tobacco is legal and it kills over 400,000 people in the United States each year.
Even the secondhand smoke from an e-cigarette can be hazardous to those around the smoker. So, what’s in a vape cloud? Nicotine, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, formaldehyde, carcinogens, benzene and acetaldehyde. The lungs are designed for breathing in oxygen. When we breathe in vaporized liquid, it condenses in the walls of the lungs. Condensed liquid is heavier than vapor, so it will fall down to the bottom of the lungs and sit there. This can lead to serious lung infections like pneumonia.
Nicotine use is disguised in clever ways, including flash drives, hoodie strings, soft drink bottles, feminine products, and other concealments. Parents need to be observant of their youth behaviors. For more information on nicotine, vaping, e-cigarettes, and marijuana, go to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov. NIDA information on Drug Abuse and Teens, www.drugabuse.gov, and Quit Help, www.smokefree.gov are more sources for information.
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Article by Johanna Hicks, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Family & Community Health Agent