Recently, the youth at one of our churches was asked, “What health matter are you most concerned about and would like more information on?” Their overwhelming, emphatic answer was “E-cigarettes and vaping!” This should be of concern not only to our youth, but also to parents, grandparents and youth leaders who need to know what our youth are experiencing and what is really on their minds. Following is a discussion that should not only inform the youth, but wake up adults and open their eyes and ears to better understand what is happening in the lives of our younger generation in today’s world.
What are e-cigarettes (E-cigarettes)? Also known as e-vaporizers, these are battery-operated devises that people use to inhale an aerosol that typically contains nicotine (though not always), flavorings, and other chemicals. They can resemble tobacco cigarettes (ciga-likes), pipes, everyday items like pens and even USB memory sticks. Regardless of their appearance, they operate in a similar manner. Some common nicknames for E-cigarettes include: e-cigs, e-hackah pens, e-hackahs, vapes, mods. E-cigarettes consist of four components: 1. A cartridge/chamber that holds a liquid containing varying amounts of nicotine, various flavorings and other chemicals, 2. A heating source (atomizer), 3. A power source (usually a battery), 4. A mouth-piece for inhaling. The person inhales after the battery-powered heating device vaporizes the liquid. Currently, there are more than 460 different brands on the market.
E-cigarettes are popular among teens and is the most common form of tobacco used among youth in the United States. This is probably because of the alluring advertisements, easy availability and the various liquid flavors. A report in the March 2017 American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that one in four teens reported using e-cigarettes for dripping, which is a process of placing e-liquid directly on the heated atomizer coils and then inhaling the vapors. The teens reported that this provides a thicker vapor, improves flavors and provides a stronger “hit” – a pleasurable contraction in the back of the throat.
Early evidence, as reported in a 2015 Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that E-cigarettes may serve as an introductory product for pre-teens and teens who go on to use other tobacco products. A study showed that students who had used E-cigarettes by the time they entered 9th grade were more likely than others to start smoking cigarettes and other smokable tobacco products within the next year. Another study in the March 2018 journal Pediatrics showed that high school students who used E-cigarettes in the last month were 7 times more likely to report that they smoked cigarettes when asked 6 months later. This study suggests that teens using E-cigarettes are at greater risk for smoking cigarettes in the future.
In 2016, the FDA established a rule for E-cigarettes and their liquid solutions. Because they contain nicotine derived from tobacco, they are now subject to governmental regulations as tobacco products, including the requirement that in-store and online purchasers must be at least 128 years of age.
E-cigarette use does affect the brain. The nicotine in the e-liquid is quickly absorbed from the lungs into the blood. The nicotine in the blood stimulates the adrenal gland to release epinephrine (adrenaline), which stimulates the central nervous system and increases the blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Like most addictive substances, nicotine activates a chemical messenger (substance) in the brain called dopamine, a chemical that reinforces rewarding behaviors. The pleasure derived from the nicotine’s interaction with the brain’s reward circuits motivates some people to use nicotine again and again, even in the face of risks to their own health and well-being.
Some people might think that E-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking regular cigarettes. Nicotine in any form is a highly addictive drug and can even prime the brain for addiction to other drugs. E-cigarettes also expose the lungs to several other chemicals that are produced during the vaping/heating process, such as high levels of nickel and chromium. Some brands may also contain cadmium, a toxic metal that is also found in regular cigarette smoke and causes breathing problems and other diseases.
During the teen years, critical brain development is occurring which continues into adulthood. Young people who use nicotine in any form are especially at risk for long-lasting effects. Nicotine affects the development of the brain’s reward system, so continued use can lead to nicotine addiction. It can also make other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine more pleasurable to a teen’s developing brain. Nicotine can also affect the development of the brain pathways (circuits) that control attention span and learning, as well as mood disorders and impulse control, even when it may harm oneself or others.
Some people have suggested that E-cigarettes may help lower nicotine cravings. However, E-cigarettes ARE NOT FDA APPROVED QUIT AIDS. Also, there is no scientific evidence to suggest the effectiveness of E-cigarettes for long-term smoking cessation. There are, however, seven (7) FDA approved quit aids that are proven safe and effective for tobacco smokers when used as directed.
Conclusion: our youth should always avoid E-cigarette use in any form at all times!
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Proverbs 14:12 (ESV)
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness.” 2 Peter 1:5-6. (ESV)
John W. Downing, Jr., M.D.