A new report from the United States Surgeon General offers a firm warning about the dangers of “vaping” (using e-cigarettes) among today’s youth, citing strong likelihood they will move on to tobacco.
One of the biggest hot-button public health concerns of our time is the prevalence of “vaping”, or the usage of electronic cigarettes. Vaping (vaporizing) involves inhaling the water vapor of a substance that has been heated, but not heated to the point where it actually burns and smoke is emitted. For many substances (most notably and often, marijuana and tobacco), the active chemical is still released even at this lower temperature. This means that users can receive the effects of the substance without having to actually inhale harmful smoke and its additives.
On the one hand, public health experts occasionally offer measured praise for vaping, since it avoids smoke inhalation, an activity we know scientifically to be harmful — and potentially deadly. Given the choice between vaping and smoking, most who have researched the topic would probably say that vaping is the safer bet. However, even that recommendation is a cautious one, as the fact is that we just don’t know all that much about the long-term effects of vaping.
Federal public health officials’ best estimate is that 3 million American middle and high school students are active users of e-cigarettes or other vaping mechanisms. That’s a monstrous figure considering that e-cigarettes didn’t really emerge on the public market until around 2010. Decades of programs aimed at discouraging youth from tobacco use is potentially being eroded by the convenience and enhanced discretion offered by e-cigs (not to mention the perceived health benefits compared to smoking).
The problem is, while vaping is likely safer than smoking, there are still negative health effects that come along with this habit. Decades of science show us that developing brains are not as resilient as adult brains, and that the chronic introduction of substances to the developing brain can have lasting deleterious effects. Nicotine, in particular, has shown to be a neurotoxin in adolescents. And now, with discreet and cheap e-cigs readily available, our country’s youth are getting hooked on nicotine in potentially record numbers.
Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that the aerosol used in e-cigarettes is potentially carcinogenic as well. So, even if we posit that adults are “less” at risk for negative health effects from vaporized nicotine, the delivery system itself is likely doing long-term damage that we simply don’t understand the depth of yet due to the newness of the technology.