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Vaping and teens - Am I cool yet? - (4/17/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacist’s friend and next-door neighbor, Betty, came up to the fence that divided their yards and motioned to the pharmacist who was busily gardening. Betty said, “Tell me if we are in big trouble here. Jason was caught vaping in the boy’s bathroom at school. The principal called Ted and me in for a conference.” The pharmacist looked surprised because she did not think the 15-year old smoked. “Is vaping a danger to his health?” Betty asked her. 

To vape means to inhale vapor through the mouth from a battery-operated electronic device – such as an electronic cigarette – or e-cig – that heats up and vaporizes a liquid or solid. This e-cigarette contains a small reservoir of nicotine that is converted into an aerosol mist. The user vapes, or puffs on the vapor, to get a hit of the nicotine. There are plusses and minuses to vaping. The advantages tend to be for those who smoke cigarettes. Smokers are addicted to nicotine. Tar and other toxins found in tobacco smoke are more harmful than nicotine. Vaping removes the exposure to the most harmful substances in tobacco. Research suggests that vaping is already helping smokers to quit.

Over the last few years, this fad has caught on big-time. In April 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that vaping has become an epidemic in American high schools. A 2016 report from the US Surgeon General showed a 900% increase in e-cig use by high school students from 2011 to 2015, and the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey noted that 1.7 million high school students and 500,000 middle school students said they had used e-cigs in the last month. The vaping industry has taken notice and sees dollar signs. The alarming trend is prompting concerns that some companies are taking direct aim at teenagers by tailoring and marketing vaping products to younger users. 

Is this bad? Isn’t vaping safe? Not necessarily. E-cigs do not emit harmless water vapor. Rather, e-cigs can expose their users to similar or even higher levels of the carcinogen, formaldehyde, as does tobacco smoke. Intense heat changes the composition of e-liquids. New chemicals are created. E-cigs come in different flavors: bubble gum, cinnamon roll, apple breeze. Adorable! And they absolutely go with this year’s stage 4 lung tumor. The flavoring chemicals also produce high levels of free radicals, toxins associated with cancer and other diseases, according to the Penn State College of Medicine. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage healthy cells, and can eventually lead to heart disease and malignancies. The World Health Organization recommends that e-cigs be banned indoors as they emit chemicals that are potentially as dangerous as cigarettes and have a second-hand smoking risk.

What about the coolness factor? If all the other kids are vaping, then why not your kid? Even though the Marlboro Man made cigarettes part of the masculine mystique back in the day, it took 50 years of relentless marketing before the medical field linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. No one knows what the long-term consequences are for teenagers who vape. Bottom line: No kid should be using any tobacco product. It always has been and always will be uncool. 

Betty now understood what her friend, the pharmacist, was saying. She certainly did not want her growing son’s health to be compromised in any manner. And she and her husband planned to have an informed talk with Jason’s principal as well as with Jason.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com 


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