Do you know the truth about vaping?

Kenadi Browne and Megan So

According to a survey of 334 Liberty students, 24% of them have used an e-cigarette, or “vaped,” at least once. But how many of those students truly understand the effects of using this product? How many know exactly what they are inhaling? Join the Patriot Press as we explore the issue of vaping and dispel the myths surrounding this growing trend.

You trek out to your car, parked in the very back of the parking lot, ready to head home after a long and exhausting day of school. You throw your backpack in the backseat, sit down, and breathe in deeply, but wait—what’s that artificial fruity smell seeping into your car?
You look to your left, and, sure enough, someone is lounging in the car next to you, vaping.
What do Liberty Students Know?
“My sister was doing it, and it was becoming a thing, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” senior Lewis Taylor* said. “I have something that I can blow smoke out of, and, to me, that looks awesome.”
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have seen a recent increase in popularity with teenagers: from 2011 to 2014, the use of e-cigarettes by middle and high school students tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“A lot of my friends vape, which is what got me interested,” senior Anthony Clark* said. “So I did some research and picked out a vape, and I got a mouth piece and some juice and I just started vaping.”
These vapes have been cited by teens and some medical professionals, such as Public Health Professor Michael Siegel, as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. For example, a common belief among teen vape users is that the liquid in the vapes, coined “vape juice,” is limited to water with flavoring and minimal, if any, nicotine.
Another reason why teens have turned to e-cigarettes, according to Doctor Abigail Halperin, a family doctor and professor at the University of Washington, is that the nicotine content of the e-cigarette can be adjusted to much less than that of regular cigarettes, which makes users feel like they may be using a less addictive product. Some users even choose to exclude the nicotine altogether, opting for a vape with only flavoring.
“When you get nicotine, you can kind of feel like a slight buzz,” Taylor said. “The amount that I vape is between 3 and 6, which is the lowest amount. So I get a buzz, but I’m not getting addicted.”
Because e-cigarettes are a fairly new product for teenagers, it’s often difficult to distinguish between the myths and facts of these products, and since there are countless different types of vapes, it can be almost impossible.
So are any of these beliefs about e-cigarettes true?
The Truth about E-Cigarettes
E-cigarettes have three main parts: a battery, an atomizer, and a cartridge. When a person inhales, the battery activates the atomizer, which activates the heating element of the device. The liquid in the cartridge is heated to vaporization point, and the person inhales the vaporized liquid, which can contain vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavors, and other chemicals—including the highly addictive chemical nicotine, which is also in traditional cigarettes. The main health difference between traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes is that e-cigarettes are made without tobacco and tar, which are major carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances.
Doctor Abigail Halperin teaches the Tobacco Studies program at the University of Washington, and she has expressed concern about the growing use of e-cigarettes among teenagers. In 2014, the CDC reported that over a quarter million teenagers who had never smoked a traditional cigarette used e-cigarettes.
“The main problem with teens and vaping is that they think it is harmless, and although it is much less harmful than traditional cigarettes, it can still be addictive,” Halperin said. “However, we don’t know yet how addictive the electronic devices are, because we don’t know exactly how much nicotine is in the fluid.”
Currently, there are no FDA regulations on e-cigarettes. This means that companies are not required to disclose the chemicals in their products, so e-cigarette users may not know exactly what they are inhaling. A product could claim to be nicotine-free, when, in reality, it could contain a fairly high level, and cause a user to become addicted. In Washington, the only restriction on e-cigarettes is that they are prohibited for minors. King County tobacco prevention program manager Scott Neal is concerned about what this could mean for teenagers.
“Even the non-nicotine versions have been found to have nicotine in them,” Neal said. “Our concern for public health is that the teen brain is very susceptible to addiction, and that teens could begin a lifetime of addiction to nicotine products.”
Originally, e-cigarettes were marketed by independent companies as a way to consume nicotine without the carcinogens in tobacco and tar, as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. But, Halperin said, since major tobacco companies have also started to market and sell these products, the purpose of e-cigarettes has changed.
“What I’m worried about is that the companies will make them as addictive as possible,” Halperin said. “They want people to graduate to traditional cigarettes because those are more profitable.”
Nicotine is the most addictive chemical in e-cigarettes, but it is not the only one with adverse health effects. The chemical acetaldehyde, a main compound in e-cigarette vapor, becomes formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, when it is heated and vaporized in the liquid cartridge. Diacetyl, a chemical found in most flavored e-cigarettes, is harmful to the lungs. Halperin also speculates that there are many other harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes, but that we don’t know what they are due to the lack of e-cigarette regulation.
“The FDA needs to implement policies to regulate the marketing tactics that the companies are using, and they need to regulate the e-cigarettes the same way as tobacco products,” Neal said. “That would be a start.”