As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continue to investigate the outbreak of lung injury associated with e-cigarettes, surveys show a record number of teens continue to vape.
What are the potential health risks down the road? A top toxicologist says vaping poses very different dangers than smoking cigarettes.
Wade Taylor switched from smoking cigarettes to vaping because he believes it's safer.
"There's like 400 and something chemicals in a cigarette," he said.
Dr. Ilona Jaspers says while that's true, vaping presents a different health threat than smoking.
"The disease manifestations, the pathology we see in these individuals is not something you would ever see in a smoker," said Jaspers, a professor in the University of North Carolina Department of Pediatrics.
Jaspers, who studies the adverse effects of inhaled chemicals, says we know cigarettes can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and emphysema, but what about e-cigarettes?
"We don't know what this may cause 20 years down the road," she said.
That's one reason why Jaspers' research team is taking a closer look at what's in these products.
They filled a plastic container with a popular flavoring agent found in liquid nicotine and let it sit for 2 hours.
"We just put a drop of the cinnamon flavoring there and it etched away the plastic and basically ate it away," postdoctoral researcher Dr. Phillip Clapp said.
Jaspers says the real concern is more young people are vaping nicotine without knowing the consequences.
"It delivers a high dose very quickly, so it gets these teens addicted much faster than a cigarette does," she said.
And she says you don't always know how much nicotine you're getting.
"In Europe you can only have 2% nicotine, whereas here we have up to 8%," she said.
She agrees regulation is key but says the priority is stopping the growing number of teens from vaping.
"Prevention, education and getting these kids off of the nicotine addiction," Jaspers said, enumerating the necessary next steps.
Jaspers speaks to middle and high school students about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping products. She urges those in states where there is no e-cigarette ban to contact their legislators and ask for an additional small e-cig tax where that money can be used for prevention and education.
VAPING RESEARCH UNCOVERS NEW DANGERS
BACKGROUND: E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol or mix of small particles in the air. Most have a battery, heating element, and a place to hold liquid. Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, while others look like USB flash drives or pens. Using an e-cigarette is sometimes called "vaping" or "JUULing." A recent CDC study found that 99% of the e-cigarettes sold in the U.S. contained nicotine. Nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain which keeps developing until about age 25. Using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. More than 44,000 students took part in a 2018 annual survey of drug, alcohol, and cigarette use in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades. About 37% of 12th graders reported vaping in 2018, compared with 28% in 2017. This includes nicotine, flavored liquids, marijuana, and hash oil. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-Ecigarettes-for-Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults.html and https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2019/02/vaping-risesamong-teens)
THE FDA STEPS IN: The FDA recently said it will ban fruit and mint-flavored products used in e-cigarettes and vaping products. However, they will allow vape shops to sell flavors from tank-based systems, which allow people to mix their own nicotine and vaping juice. This ban is supposed to be enforced by February 2020, and the regulatory agency will target companies that market to youths. The flavoring ban will not include menthol or tobacco-flavored products. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, says the ban aims to bring public balance by targeting products widely used by teens yet still allowing vaping for adults who want to quit smoking. Ilona Jaspers, PhD, Professor in Department of Pediatrics, Inhalation Toxicologist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says, "It's critical to find ways to get the already addicted teenagers/young adults off their nicotine addiction. There are currently no good ways for nicotine cessation treatments in teenagers." (Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/01/02/vaping-ban-fda-strikes-mint-and-fruitflavored-products/2796299001/)
TEXTING PROGRAM BREAKTHROUGH: Research from a nonprofit organization, Truth Initiative, that is behind the youth tobacco prevention campaign reveals that a text message-based e-cigarette quit program could aid young people to quit vaping. Just five weeks after the launch of the first-of-its-kind quit vaping program, This is Quitting, more than 27,000 youth and young adults enrolled, underscoring the need for quitting tools to combat the dramatic increase in youth e-cigarette use. In January 2019, the nonprofit expanded its proven-effective quit smoking resources to help the more than 20% of high schoolers who vape nationwide. Reported by the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, and declared an epidemic by the surgeon general, vaping increased among high schoolers by 78% and among middle schoolers by 48% in just one year. "Many young people who started vaping now want to quit, but they don't know how," said Dr. Amanda Graham, lead author and senior vice president, Innovations at Truth Initiative. "It's clear that This is Quitting is meeting a need for thousands of young people through a channel they're comfortable with. The fact that young people are setting a quit date the day they enroll shows that they are eager to break free from vaping. Our program allows them to get support discreetly and anonymously without having to disclose to an adult that they are vaping," Dr. Graham continued. (Source: https://truthinitiative.org/press/press-release/new-study-reveals-breakthrough-texting-program-aidsyoung-vapers-quitting)