Vaping: What do we know?


Leta Lohymeyer

A photo with outlines of people filled with smoke.
The CDC reported over 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with the use of e-cigarettes. Photo by Philly Nevada/the Gateway

When I walk through campus on a typical day, I see puffs of vapor … and then the scent of cotton candy hits me. Normally, vaping doesn’t bother me – I mean at least it’s not as bad as cigarette smoke.

I’ve often been told that vaping is much safer than cigarettes. However, with an increasing amount of people becoming sick from apparent vaping-related illnesses, knowing the risks of vaping is vital to one’s health.

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) defines electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as “devices that deliver an aerosol to the user by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. It can also be used to deliver marijuana or other substances.” As of 2014, there were 466 brands of e-cigarettes with 7,764 unique flavors.

Based on existing evidence, most doctors and scientists think that e-cigarettes are probably safer than regular cigarettes. But how much safer? The concern I have is that people don’t know the truth about what they hold in their hands and breath into their lungs.

“We know if you use cigarettes they are known to cause all kinds of adverse health effects,” said Dr. Ilona Jaspers, director of toxicology at the University of North Carolina. “So, of course e-cigarettes compared to cigarettes, which are really, really bad, are considered to be potentially safer. But that’s a wrong comparison. Our level of comparison should be not inhaling any kind of contaminant or any kind of product and comparing the e-cigarette to that.”

The CDC website also reported that as of Sept. 6, 2019, there are over 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with the use of e-cigarettes. Five deaths have been confirmed in the United States in connection to vaping.

In 2017, there was a reported 54,900 Nebraskan adults using e-cigarettes, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

That report includes the amount of adults vaping, but e-cigarette products have been rising – with incredible popularity – in teens and young adults. I know how quickly vaping has spread to the people I know and how frequently I see vapes posted on social media.

In 2015, the U.S. surgeon general reported that e-cigarette use among high school students had increased by 900 percent, and 40 percent of young e-cigarette users had never smoked regular tobacco.

According to Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, there are several reasons why e-cigarettes are attractive to young people. Most teens believe that vaping is not as harmful as traditional smoking. Vape cartridges are appealing with a variety of flavorings from cinnamon roll to mango. Also, both youths and adults appreciate the lack of smoke – with no smell, e-cigarettes reduce the stigma of smoking.

One of the most popular e-cigarette brands is JUUL.

JUUL and other vapes don’t contain all the same harmful carcinogens that traditional, burnable cigarettes do. This makes them a better alternative for individuals that are trying to quit smoking. However, that doesn’t mean they’re good for you. The nicotine found in e-cigarettes has also been found to negatively affect adolescent brain development.

JUULs deliver a higher concentration of nicotine than some other types of e-cigarettes. The e-liquid is five percent nicotine by volume, which is more than twice the concentration of nicotine in similar device. This high level of nicotine increases the overall risk of addiction. One JUUL pod is equal to 20 traditional cigarettes.

In an issued statement, the American Lung Association in Nebraska stated, “The American Lung Association is deeply concerned about the illnesses attributed to vaping across the country, including here in Nebraska. The inhalation of harmful chemicals found in e-cigarettes can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease. The developing lungs of youth may be more at risk. No one should use any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes.”

We don’t have enough research to confidently determine the long-term health effects of vaping. However, I worry about the amount of current compelling evidence linking risks for serious health problems, such as nicotine addiction and lung disease, to people who vape – especially for young adults, including my peers. Until we have a greater understanding we need to treat vaping with just as much caution as any other tobacco product.