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Vaping Facts for Teens

What about e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are fairly new products. They’ve only been around for about ten years, so researchers are in the early stage of studying how they affect your health.

How E-cigarettes Work
E-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine without the other chemicals produced by burning tobacco leaves. Puffing on the mouthpiece of the cartridge activates a battery-powered inhalation device (called a vaporizer). The vaporizer heats the liquid inside the cartridge which contains nicotine, flavors, and other chemicals. The heated liquid turns into an aerosol (vapor) which the user inhales—referred to as “vaping.”

How E-cigarettes Affect the Brain
Similar to other nicotine products, Nicotine from e-cigarettes activates the brain’s rewards circuits and increases levels of a chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine. Pleasurable feelings caused by nicotine’s interaction with the brain’s reward circuit can cause a person to seek out and use nicotine again and again, despite the risks to their health.

Research so far suggests that e-cigarettes might be less harmful than cigarettes when people who regularly smoke switch to them completely and no longer use tobacco cigarettes. But, because it affects the development of the brain’s reward system, continued e-cigarette use can lead to addiction. It can also make other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine more pleasurable to a teen’s developing brain.10

It is important to remember that nicotine in any form is a highly addictive drug. Health experts have raised many questions about the safety of these products, particularly for teens:

  • Testing of some e-cigarette products found the aerosol (vapor) to contain known cancer-causing and toxic chemicals, and particles from the vaporizing mechanism that may be harmful. The health effects of repeated exposure to these chemicals are not yet clear.
  • Some research suggests that e-cigarette use may serve as a “gateway” or introductory product for youth to try other tobacco products, including regular cigarettes. A study showed that students who have used e-cigarettes by the time they start 9th grade are more likely than others to start smoking traditional cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products within the next year.11 Another study has shown an association between e-cigarette smoking and progression to smoking actual cigarettes.12 This study suggests that e-cigarettes may actually encourage cigarette smoking in adolescents.
  • Some research suggests that certain brands of e-cigs contain metals like nickel and chromium, possibly coming from the heating of coils.13

Regulation of E-cigarettes

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now regulates the sales of e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, and cigars. Therefore:

  • It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, or cigars in person or online to anyone under age 18.
  • Buyers have to show their photo ID to purchase e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, or cigars, verifying that they are 18 years or older.
  • These products cannot be sold in vending machines (unless in an adult-only facility).
  • It is illegal to hand out free samples.

FDA regulation also means that the Federal government will now have a lot more information about what is in e-cigarettes, the safety or harms of the ingredients, how they are made, and what risks need to be communicated to the public (for example, on health warnings on the product and in advertisements). They will also be able to stop manufacturers from making statements about their products that are not scientifically proven.

Regulation does not mean that e-cigarettes are necessarily safe for all adults to use, or that all of the health claims currently being made in advertisements by manufactures are true. But it does mean that e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, and cigars now have to follow the same type of rules as cigarette manufacturers.

10 U.S. Department of Health, and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease, Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. E-Cigarette Use Among Youth And Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General — Executive Summary.; 2016. https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/2016_SGR_Exec_Summ_508…. Accessed February 21, 2017.

11 Rigotti NA. e-Cigarette use and subsequent tobacco use by adolescents: new evidence about a potential risk of e-cigarettes. JAMA. 2015;314(7):673-674.

12 Chaffee BW, Watkins SL, Glantz SA. Electronic Cigarette Use and Progression From Experimentation to Established Smoking. Pediatrics. March 2018:e20173594. doi:10.1542/peds.2017-3594.

13 Hess CA, Olmedo P, Goessler W, Cohen E, Rule AM. E-cigarettes as a source of  toxic and potentially carcinogenic metals. Environmental Research. 2017;152:221-221.

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