Vaping Risks, Realities

With insight from a Novant pediatrician
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As e-cigarette use skyrockets in popularity and vaping-related deaths climb, parents need to know the risks children face from using a device that floods the body with high doses of nicotine.

“Nicotine causes the release of dopamine in the brain, which causes a feeling of pleasure making it very addictive,” says Dr. Julia Richards, pediatrician with Novant Health Pediatrics Denver. “In adolescence, nicotine can harm parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.”

E-cigarettes — also called vape pens — work by heating a liquid to produce an aerosol that users inhale into their lungs. The liquid typically has flavoring, nicotine, and may also contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabinoid (CBD) oil in addition to or instead of nicotine.

“Many kids think vaping is better than smoking a cigarette. but the reality is that e-cigarettes have a higher concentration of nicotine,” Richards says. “A single Juul pod can have as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes, making them much more addictive.”

Real Risks

Because e-cigarettes are still fairly new, the available research on longterm effects of e-cigarette use is limited, Richards says, but doctors do know that nicotine can harm the developing brain, which keeps developing until age 25. 

One ingredient, propylene glycol — largely responsible for making users’ breath look like a cloud of mist — is found in fog machines used at concerts and has been linked to chronic lung problems among stagehands. Some studies have found the vapor produced by e-cigarettes often contains tiny particles of lead, nickel, tin and silver from the machinery inside the devices that can get stuck in a user’s lungs.

Parents should also learn about the different shapes and types of e-cigarettes. Many of the new e-cigarettes look like a USB flash drive making it easier to hide.

E-cigarette use also is associated with the start and misuse of other tobacco products. Studies have shown that e-cigarette use has proven to be a gateway to other forms of tobacco, alcohol and other substances.

Though longterm effects are still uncertain, “the research that is available shows detrimental effects to people’s health,” Richards says. “The only thing that needs to get into the lungs is air — period. Vaping of any kind is putting you at risk for serious health issues that are not yet fully known or understood.”

Michele Huggins is the editor of Charlotte Parent magazine.