Is Vaping Harmful to Teens?
The good news is, the number of Americans smoking cigarettes has taken a nosedive in the past 50 years, from 42 percent to 15 percent. The possibly more ambiguous news is that sales of e-cigarettes—devices that heat liquid, often containing nicotine, to provide a vapor that can be inhaled—are on the rise. Sales of e-cigarettes rose 14.4 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine raises some questions about the use of e-cigarettes—a practice known as “vaping.” The report suggests that e-cigarettes, while addictive, are harmful, but safer than cigarettes—and might even help some longtime smokers kick the habit. It also points to e-cigarettes as a possible gateway to cigarette smoking among teens.
We asked Einstein Healthcare Network pulmonologist Sunil Sharma, MD, for his insights into the report’s findings on teens and vaping.
Q: The report concludes that e-cigarettes containing nicotine might be a steppingstone to cigarette smoking among teens. Is this the first time such a conclusion has been drawn, or has it just been assumed?
Dr. Sharma: Yes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested a committee of experts to conduct a review of the available evidence of the health effects of vaping. The committee looked at all the peer reviewed studies and concluded that there is substantial evidence that vaping increases use of EVER using tobacco cigarettes among young adults.
Q: Do we know the risks associated with e-cigarettes, over and above the potential risk of moving on to smoking? For example, do we know whether nicotine in e-cigarettes might be harmful to teens?
Dr. Sharma: Nicotine in e-cigarettes can vary significantly and has been shown to affect brain development in adolescents. Short-term physiological effects like higher heart rate and increased diastolic blood pressure have been noted. However, studies are lacking to make any conclusion on the long-term adverse effects on health.
Q: Smoking has declined among both adults and teens. Could vaping begin to reverse that trend among teens? Is that a potential risk?
Dr. Sharma: This is one of the concerns—that addiction to nicotine at a young age may lead to experimentation and addiction to more harmful combustible cigarettes. However, there is no conclusive evidence of this.
Q: Are there particular kinds of e-cigarettes that seem more appealing to teens?
Dr. Sharma: It appears that flavored e-cigarettes appeal to teens more and this seem to be reflected in the sale of e-cigarettes.
Q: So the bottom line for teens who vape–and the report suggests 11 percent do–is what?
Dr. Sharma: The bottom line is, despite the facts, we do not know the long-term damage or whether the ability of e-cigarettes to act as a “gateway” drug to more dangerous combustible cigarettes is real. In addition, use of nicotine at a young age is hazardous to brain development. In light of the above, a strong and consistent message to avoid e-cigarettes and an educational program among teens is a must.