Not long ago, it was clear for people to see the areas that were designated for smokers and non-smokers. Nowadays, with cigarettes going from smoke to vapor and from burning to electronic — those lines are not so clear. Even though it may be more pleasant to accidentally walk through a cloud of fruit-smelling vapor, the dangers weigh about the same as if you’d happen to walk through classic tobacco smoke. With some that can even be charged via computer port, electronic cigarettes have become the latest trend, even engulfing the adolescent generation by introducing unique flavors and intelligent marketing to make e-cigarettes seem less dangerous than they actually are.
“Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, e-vaporizers or electronic nicotine delivery systems, are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals,” says interventional pulmonologist Dr. Sameer Arbat.
Typically made up of a cartridge that holds a liquid solution, a heating element, a power source and a mouthpiece, e-cigarettes can, similarly to traditional cigarettes, lead people who “vape” to addiction.
“E-cigarette vapor contains known carcinogens and toxic chemicals, as well as potentially toxic metal nanoparticles from the device itself,” Arbat says.
These vapor sticks have even become a poignant problem among young adults. According to truthinitiative.org, the number of high school students who use e-cigarettes has shot up to a whopping 11.7 percent in 2017 from 1.5 percent in 2011. Even middle school and junior high students have taken part in the use of e-cigarettes. In 2017, the number of middle school students that were using e-cigarettes jumped to 3.3 percent, which is a dramatic increase from just .6 percent in 2011. One thing is for sure — electronic cigarettes are beginning to be a serious problem.
Those statistics were only from 2017. Over the last two years, the number of young e-cigarette users has grown exponentially, threatening an entirely new generation of people.
“More than one in four high school students who use e-cigarettes use them regularly,” says Jennifer Folkenroth, the national senior director of tobacco for the American Lung Association.
As the brain is not fully developed until a person’s mid-20s, the use of electronic cigarettes is especially dangerous to the younger generations, because it can inhibit the brain to fully develop and can lead to many serious complications.
“Sixty-six percent of teens today believe that e-cigarette aerosol is just ‘water vapor and flavorings’ — this is not the case,” Folkenroth says. “E-cigarettes are in fact highly addictive and include a multitude of toxins and carcinogens that may cause irreversible lung damage.”
A study found that students who use e-cigarettes were more likely to start smoking real cigarettes within a year, Arbat says.
A recent article published in Forbes uncovered that, after vaping two cartridges a day, a 22-year-old male is suing the e-cigarette company, JUUL, after he suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke that left him with paralysis, a speech impairment and the loss of half of his vision.
As e-cigarettes haven’t even been sold for more than a few years, the mid- to long-term consequences of vaping are still unknown, Folkenroth says. However, we can deduce that the use of them still carries danger from the amount of chemicals and type of chemicals they hold within.
Specifically, e-cigarettes can contain chemicals such as diacetyl, which can cause a lung disease commonly known as “popcorn lung,” Folkenroth says. In addition, e-cigarettes can contain acrolein, formaldehyde and of course, nicotine, all of which can be extremely harmful and damaging to the body.
“One cartridge of the most commonly used e-cigarette, JUUL, contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes,” Folkenroth says.
How is this possible? Well, as the market for flavors is ever-changing, so is the nicotine. Brian King, Ph.D, deputy director for research translation in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health, says this new type of nicotine is called “nicotine salts.”
“Nicotine salts allow especially high levels of nicotine to be inhaled more easily and with less irritation than the free-base nicotine that is used in other e-cigarettes and tobacco products,” King says.
This evolution of the non-irritant nicotine means that vaping is specifically concerning the youth in regard to initiation and dependence, King says.
Advertised with fun, fruity flavors and easy accessibility, the e-cigarette industry is currently booming, primarily due to intelligent marketing. According to the US National Library of Medicine, researchers found that “e-cigarette marketing currently contains many features that may be particularly appealing to youth” because of their content, which included attractive aspects such as happiness, friendship, sex and success.
Folkenroth, who is part of the American Lung Association, solidified this idea.
“While cigarette manufacturers are prohibited from advertising on television, from sponsoring events and other marketing activities, those rules do not extend to the marketing of other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars,” she says.
Advertising by e-cigarette companies increased from $6.4 million in 2011 to $115 million in 2014, Folkenroth says.
Also admired because of their easy availability, e-cigarette ads are appealing to the younger generations because of the variety of “flavors” to vape on the market, in addition to the belief that they are safer than cigarettes, Arbat says.
A study done by a professor of environmental medicine, Irfan Rahman, Ph.D, found e-cigarette liquid (the flavoring) to be toxic to white blood cells, even though this is one of the primary aspects that draws in consumers, Arbat adds.
Also marketed as a way to wean off traditional cigarette addiction, e-cigarettes are used among adults because they can contain customizable amounts of nicotine, and this can seem like the more appealing option. However, the CDC’s Brian King says that science suggests this effort typically ends up as “dual use,” where people end up not giving up smoking and continue to vape.
A smoker’s primary objective should be to eventually stop using both traditional cigarettes and vaping, King says.
“There are no evident positives about using electronic cigarettes/vaping. Some people believe e-cigarettes may help lower nicotine cravings in those who are trying to quit smoking,” Arbat says, “However, e-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved quit aid, and there is no conclusive scientific evidence on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes for long-term smoking cessation.”
All in all, those customizable, aesthetically pleasing, USB-port charging e-cigarettes can actually end up doing more harm than good, especially for Gen Zers.
“The American Lung Association is very concerned that we are at risk of losing another generation to tobacco-caused diseases as the result of e-cigarettes,” Folkenroth says.