Authored by: Steve Hanson, Program Manager at Salt Lake County Health Department
February is National Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States and, sadly, our hearts have a new threat: vaping. Electronic nicotine delivery systems come in many shapes and sizes and go by many different names (such as e-cigs, vape pens, e-hookahs, mods, tanks, etc.) but contrary to what many believe, they produce a lot more than just water vapor. In addition to several chemicals known to cause cancer, most vape products contain nicotine: a poison derived from the tobacco plant that causes numerous health problems including higher risk of having a heart attack. With this in mind, let’s address some of the myths surrounding this emerging public health problem.
We see countless ads promoting vaping as healthy, but don’t be fooled! Although these devices are relatively new, we know enough to definitively say vape products are not safe and that our youth are the most vulnerable to their negative effects. Since Utah started collecting data on the use of vape products among youth back in 2011, the use rate has increased by 540 percent! They are by far the most common tobacco product youth try and use. In 2014, use of vape products by young adults 18–24 years of age surpassed that of adults 25 years of age and older. This growth is because the industry promotes them as safe and targets children with fun devices and candy-flavor liquid. They even want us to call it “e-juice” because that makes it sound healthy.
Vape companies also promote their products as a tool to help people quit smoking. Studies have shown vape products do not help people quit smoking and even lead to youth smoking traditional cigarettes. FDA-approved resources such as coaching and medication are effective in helping people quit smoking and should be promoted instead of vape products.
Youth are especially vulnerable to the effects of nicotine because their brains are still in a crucial stage of development. Nicotine rewires the brain, making it more susceptible to addiction. Nicotine also stunts the growth of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for self-control, attention span, learning, and weighing the consequences of actions.
Some youth think vaping is okay as long as the e-liquid doesn’t contain nicotine. This is not true. The vapor from nicotine-free e-liquids contains chemicals known as aldehydes (which cause cancer and are used to embalm the deceased), as well as toxic particles that damage the lungs. One study found that 75 percent of flavored vape products contain the chemical diacetyl, which is linked to an irreversible lung disease known as “popcorn lung.” This damage is magnified when the devices are used incorrectly in a method called “dripping.”
A new study out of the journal Pediatrics says one in four teens who vape are also dripping, which releases higher amounts of these harmful chemicals. These chemicals are also found in secondhand vapor, but you won’t find them labeled on the bottle because they are created when the e-liquid is vaporized. A final point regarding nicotine-free e-liquid: a study released this month shows vaping affects the heart in a similar way smoking does, increasing the risk of heart disease—and it has nothing to do with nicotine. The bottom line: nicotine and non-nicotine ingredients in e-liquid harm the heart.
Many efforts are underway to combat the rising use of vape products among youth. In 2016, the FDA included vape products in its regulatory authority and the Surgeon General released a report recognizing vaping as a major public health concern and stressed the need to pass policies to protect youth. Many youth groups in Salt Lake County have been working hard to educate their peers and the public about the dangers of vaping. Please contact Carol Hendrycks (385-468-4502) to learn how you can get involved. The hearts and minds of our next generation will thank you!
CDC Heart Disease Facts: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
Smoking e-Cigarettes Can Cause Heart Attacks, Dr. John Ryan, 2016: http://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=0_arhuz7de
2015 Utah Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) Survey
E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2016: https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/2016_SGR_Exec_Summ_508.pdf
E-Cigarettes, As Used, Aren’t Helping Smokers Quit, Study Shows, Elizabeth Fernandez, 2016: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2016/01/401311/e-cigarettes-used-arent-helping-smokers-quit-study-shows
Longitudinal study of e-cigarette use and onset of cigarette smoking among high school students in Hawaii, Wills, et al., 2016 http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2015-052705;
E-cigarette use as a predictor of cigarette smoking: results from a 1-year follow-up of a national sample of 12th grade students, Meich, et al, 2017: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/tobaccocontrol/early/2017/01/04/tobaccocontrol-2016-053291.full.pdf
Smokefree Teen, Health Effects: https://teen.smokefree.gov/yourHealthEffects.aspx
Chemical flavorings found in e-cigarettes linked to lung disease, Amy Roeder, Harvard Chan School Communications, 2015: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/12/chemical-flavorings-found-in-e-cigarettes-linked-to-lung-disease/
E-Cigarettes and “Dripping” Among High-School Youth, Krishnan-Sarin, et al., 2017, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2017/02/02/peds.2016-3224.full.pdf
Regular E-Cigarette Use Associated with CVD Risk Markers, Salynn Boyles, 2017: http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pulmonology/Smoking/62860?xid=nl_mpt_cardiodaily_2017-02-01&eun=g975141d0r