Marketed as a tool to help adults quit smoking, the use of e-cigarettes — also known as vaping — has reached what experts are now calling an epidemic among youth. The sweet-sounding flavors and vape pens that look like innocuous USB drives attract teens who feel they are a “safe” alternative to tobacco.
Turns out, vaping is not safe. Hundreds of serious vaping-related lung illnesses have recently been reported in the U.S. The more than 400 cases of severe pulmonary disease and lipoid pneumonia — with several reported as fatal — followed use of an e-cigarette or vaping device, both of which work by heating liquid that is turned into an aerosol inhaled by the user. Patients experienced extreme shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue, and many required hospitalization.
Vitamin E oil linked to lung disease cases
In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched an investigation and found one substance, an oil derived from vitamin E, in several of the samples of those sickened after they used e-cigarette devices. In these cases, users inhaled the aerosol from liquids that contain cannabinoid products, such as tetrahydrocannabinol oil, popularly known as THC. The CDC partnered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state and local agencies to issue an advisory recommending against the use of e-cigarette or vaping products.
While doctors, school administrators and parents have been communicating with young people about the risks related to vaping since they first appeared on convenience store and smoke shop shelves, new concerns have arisen with the prevalence of street sales of unregulated vaping products including liquid nicotine and THC oil, which can cause lung illness when inhaled. The inhaling of vegetable glycerin, an ingredient used in legal vaping products, can also be severely damaging to the lungs, and experts are now warning that the vitamin E acetate found in the tested products — while commonly found in nutritional supplements and skin care products — could be the cause of the recent illnesses and deaths.
Concerns about youth and vaping
“Due to the relatively recent development of these products, there is grave concern that our youth are being used as human guinea pigs with a well-known neurotoxic product,” says Dr. Matthew Messoline, a family medicine doctor at Sharp Rees-Stealy. “We already know that smoking nicotine and THC in any form during adolescence increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression and cognitive impairment in later life.”
In general, e-cigarettes and other vaping devices — the most popular tobacco product among youth, according to Truth Initiative, an organization dedicated to encouraging youth to reject tobacco use — are dangerous, whether they contain THC or not.
There are several concerns about the dangers of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices, including:
- They contain toxic substances, such as flavorings and humectants that have not been approved by the FDA for inhalation.
- The products can have variable levels of nicotine, some as high as a full pack of cigarettes.
- Vaping increases the likelihood young people will smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products.
- The use of nicotine by young people has an effect on key brain receptors, making them more susceptible to addiction.
- The risk of stillbirth or preterm delivery increases when pregnant women use nicotine.
- Devices can explode and lead to severe burns or other injuries.
- Secondhand aerosol exposure can be dangerous, especially to people with chronic illness, pregnant women and children.
“It is best to avoid these products, as surveys have shown the majority of adolescent users were not aware these products always contain nicotine,” Dr. Messoline says. “If you are looking for help, we strongly encourage you to talk with your doctor for information and assistance with quitting.”
Learn more about Sharp HealthCare’s smoking cessation classes and care.