With SMH Lung Cancer Screening Coordinator Amie Miller
* NOTE: This content was originally posted Oct. 29, 2019, but the blog post was revised Oct. 28, 2020 to include updates on statistics, related legislation and clinical research.
Did you know that 1 in five 5 school students uses electronic cigarettes?
Vaping, or e-cigarette use, has skyrocketed among US teens, tweens and young adults in recent years. In fact, e-cigarettes have consistently been the most commonly used tobacco product among youth since 2014, according to the Surgeon General.
And the e-cigarette brand of choice among youth is undoubtedly the JUUL. The device is small and looks very similar to a USB flash drive, which makes it easy to conceal from unsuspecting parents and teachers.
Vape products use cartridges or pods of liquid “e-juice,” which is heated into a vapor that can be inhaled. Like most e-cigarettes, the JUUL is designed to deliver large amounts of the addictive drug nicotine, along with flavorings and other additives, via an inhaled aerosol. Each of these liquid pods contains as much nicotine as a full pack of cigarettes.
Teens who use the JUUL regularly report vaping 3 to 5 pods each day — that means the nicotine that enters their systems is the equivalent to 3 to 5 packs of cigarettes. This high nicotine level can interfere with brain development and even become toxic.
Sadly, only about one-third of JUUL users aged 15-24 are aware that it contains nicotine, according to a recent study.
The Young Brain on Nicotine
The human brain is not fully developed until about age 25. Youth and young adults exposed to nicotine through vaping/juuling can experience losses in memory, learning or focus ability as a result.
Studies also are showing that juuling may set adolescence up for potential addiction struggles later in life. A 2016 survey found that one-third of U.S. middle and high school students who had used e-cigarettes reported vaping marijuana.
Is Vaping Safer than Smoking Cigarettes?
A lot of people ask, "Is this a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes?" The truth? No one knows the long-term effects of vaping yet.
The JUUL and other e-cigarettes are not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the FDA has not approved any electronic vaping device as a cessation aid for smoking.
There’s no scientific evidence that using an electronic device is a safe alternative to regular cigarettes.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe tobacco product. All tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, carry health risks. Adults who do not currently use tobacco products should not start using vaping products, and vaping products should never be used by youth, young adults or women who are pregnant.
E-cigarettes are not healthy for lungs — no matter whether they are old or young. The e-cigarette aerosol that users inhale and exhale can expose both the user and bystanders to other harmful substances, including volatile organic compounds and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs — putting all at risk for developing related illnesses down the road. In addition to nicotine, the vapor produced and inhaled when using an e-cigarette contains can contain cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals (such as nickel, tin and lead). The nicotine content and concentration may vary, and labels aren’t always a true indicator of what’s inside the vaping liquid.
Between April 2019 and February 2020, there were 2,807 cases of vaping-related lung injury and 68 vaping-related deaths reported in the US and its territories. An August 2020 study led by researchers at Stanford University found that those who vape are 5 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 as those who do not.
In December 2019, the federal government raised the minimum age for the legal sale of tobacco products. It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product — including e-cigarettes — to anyone younger than 21.
In January 2020, the federal government banned all flavored, pre-filled vaping pods, except menthol and tobacco flavors. It also finalized an enforcement policy to punish any retailers caught selling unauthorized flavors of cartridge-based e-cigarettes. However, the ban exempts refillable pod systems and disposable systems, so there has been a surge in sales of these products.
What Can You Do?
Parents, grandparents, teachers, lawmakers, administrators, healthcare providers — we each have an important role to play in addressing this public health epidemic. Here are a few things we can do today.
Get Educated —
Understand the products, what they look like, how they work, what’s in the juice, etc. Vaping devices come in all different shapes and sizes.
Start the Convo —
Talk to your child or teen about why vaping is harmful for them. Start the conversation early.
Set Boundaries —
Adopt tobacco-free rules, including e-cigarettes, in your home and vehicle. Let your child know that you want them to stay away from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, because they are not safe.
Ask an Expert to Help —
Set up an appointment with your child’s health care provider so they can learn from a medical professional about the health risks of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Lead by Example —
Set a good example by being tobacco-free. (If you use tobacco products, it’s never too late to quit; visit smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.)
SMH Lung Cancer Screening Coordinator Amie Miller, MSN, APRN, AOCNP, CTTS, is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner and Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist. Through her work, she aims to help those at high risk detect lung cancer at its earliest stages and to help smokers reduce their cancer risks by quitting smoking.