Vaping has caused more than 1,000 to become ill and 18 to die, and some are calling it an epidemic.
Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor that is produced by an electronic cigarette or a similar device. The term is used because e-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke but rather an aerosol, which looks like a vapor but actually consists of fine particles, thus the term “vaping.”
What are these devices?
E-cigarettes were introduced in the U.S. about 10 years ago. They actually resemble a smoked cigarette. The evolution of the concept brought vaping pens — which look like a fountain pen — into the market, where were then follwed by “mods,” or modifications of vaping pens, customized by the user.
What about Juuls?
This device is small, is sleek and uncannily resembles a flash drive. That design makes it easy to hide and unquestionably alluring for teens who vape their way through middle and high school classes. Juul’s market share is somewhere in the 70% range, which demonstrates its popularity. Its other enticements include tooty-fruity flavors, such as creme brulee, along with an alarming amount of nicotine — one flavor cartridge contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.
How do they work?
Most devices have a mouthpiece and a heating device powered by a battery that heats the substance into the aerosol then inhaled into the lungs. The substance, known as the e-liquid, usually has a base of propylene glycol or a glycerin-based liquid with nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals, such as THC, the chemical that produces the high in marijuana. E-cigarettes and other vaping devices do not contain tobacco.
Are they addictive?
Nicotine is the king of addictive substances — especially when delivered by inhaling it into the lungs, which releases it into the blood, thus allowing it to go to the brain, where it releases brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that regulate our moods and behaviors. One of those, dopamine, goes to our brain’s “reward center,” which makes us feel oh so good. Bingo, we want more and more. Ergo addiction.
Why is vaping in the news right now?
Over the past few months, a public health crisis has emerged around vaping. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of confirmed and probable cases of vaping-associated illnesses is now well over 1,200. Even more troubling, there have been 26 confirmed deaths. More research needs to be done to identify what the chemical is that causes these illnesses and deaths.
What is being done about the products?
A variety of responses have occurred. Some states, such as Massachusetts, have put temporary bans on the sales of all vaping products while others, such as Michigan and Rhode Island, have put temporary bans on vaping products with flavoring agents, according to The Wall Street Journal. Walmart has discontinued selling vaping products entirely.
Wasn’t vaping considered to be a safer alternative to smoking?
Yes, many use vaping as a way to quit smoking. And it was widely believed to be safer than regular cigarettes because of the many other toxic chemicals in tobacco. It was thought that by isolating nicotine, it would be safer and make it easier to get off the smoking bandwagon.
However, new research indicates a similar effect on blood vessel functioning between cigarette inhalation and vaping inhalation. Additional research is questioning the toxicity of chemicals used in the flavoring agents and THC, which produce a caustic fume damaging to the lungs.
Should people return to cigarettes?
For decades, scientists and health professionals have known that based on irrefutable research, smoking is the leading cause of preventible death. Period. End of story. So no smoking, no vaping.
What’s a nicotine-addicted person to do?
Go straight for the patch or gum. Although it doesn’t deliver the punch of a vape or smoke, it will help. But definitely stay tuned to the emerging research on this issue; this might be isolated to THC and rogue flavorings. Banning those substances might make vaping the better alternative again.
What about the teenage vaping crisis?
Many experts now identify this as an epidemic. It is especially dangerous because teenage brains are still developing, thus nicotine has a greater effect on behavior and might cause possible life-long addictions. Health care professionals advise parents to first educate themselves about vaping. Know what you’re talking about, then communicate openly about vaping with your teenagers to establish a platform of trust.
Kristine Nickel is a marketing communications consultant. For more than 30 years, she has relieved her stress by writing features for publications across the country.