With SMH Lung Cancer Screening Program Coordinator Amie Miller
Though first marketed as potential healthy alternative to cigarettes, Electronic Nicotine Devices (ENDs) such as e-cigarettes and vape pens are harmful for your lungs and bad for your overall health.
It all comes down to 2 simple truths, according to SMH Lung Cancer Screening Program Coordinator Amie Miller, ARNP:
Our lungs are meant to breathe air.
We’re not meant to inhale foreign substances.
Still, respiratory health professionals are seeing an alarming uptick in the number of people, particularly children in middle school and high school, picking up the vaping habit.
“It’s become an epidemic,” Miller says.
What’s In A Vape?
Electronic Nicotine Device. E-cigarette. Vape. A problem by any name.
But what's actually in an electronic cigarette? What's inhaled during use?
It’s not just water vapor.
Electronic cigarettes work by heating up a liquid nicotine solution, commonly called "e-liquid" or "e-juice," into a vapor that's inhaled. E-liquids also have been found to contain a number of carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals, including nickel, tin and lead.
“You’re heating this up and inhaling it,” says Miller.
Not only that, Miller continues, but many of these e-liquids have very high concentrations of nicotine, equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes but much easier to burn through.
“We’re talking massive amounts of nicotine in tiny little cartridges,” she says.
“And kids have totally jumped on board.”
An Epidemic Among Adolescents
Use of e-cigarettes among children in middle school and high school has risen dramatically in the last few years.
Nearly 20% of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2020, with 4.7% of middle school students reporting use as well, the CDC reports.
Among high schoolers, use of disposable e-cigarettes rose 1000% from 2019 to 2020, the CDC further reports, noting a 400% rise among the middle school population.
"Our kids are getting addicted to nicotine in record levels," says Miller. "And most of these kids will go on to smoke tobacco cigarettes too."
This kind of nicotine use is particularly hazardous for adolescents, whose brains are still developing and can be negatively affected by such high amounts of nicotine.
“Vaping sets kids up for long-term health consequences,” Miller says.
Talking Is Good For You — And Even Better For Your Kids
Nicotine vaping can be hard to detect, especially because e-cigarettes do not create the heavy odor that tobacco cigarettes do.
And while nicotine can affect adolescents’ developing brains — causing reduced impulse control, attention deficits and other subtle changes in behavior — the symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from run-of-the-mill teenage angst.
"Nicotine doesn't impair you like alcohol," says Miller. "You just have to pay attention to what they're doing."
A big part of this is paying attention to what the e-cigarette industry is marketing to teens, such as the “Vaporizer Hoodie,” a sweatshirt with a hidden slot for an e-cigarette in the drawstring of the hood, and other vaping products disguised as everyday items.
“It’s a good idea for all parents to become educated and know what a Juul looks like,” says Miller, referencing the most popular brand of vape pens, which looks just like a small USB drive and can be charged on almost any computer.
But the best solution is prevention. Make sure children and teens understand the dangers of nicotine abuse and addiction.
"Parents need to have the conversation about vaping and nicotine use with their kids," Miller says. "Especially talk to your pre-teens and teens about vaping and the damage it can do to their health - from impacting their brain development now to the long-term damage it can do to their lung health."
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. A local journalist and SMH's in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master's degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky.