Are vaping products unsafe?

Unfortunately, research on the health effects of vaping is still in its early stages and we don’t know its long-term health effects. It is known that some e-cigarette flavors contain toxic substances like formaldehyde and diacetyl, which was removed from popcorn products years ago after research showed it caused a serious and irreversible lung disease commonly called “popcorn lung.”

THC vaping products are generally manufactured and sold by unregulated individuals and are often sold on the “black market” due to still being illegal in many jurisdictions. Because there are no safety standards for these black-market products, they are generally considered unsafe.

Vaping products

E-cigarette, or vaping, products are sold under many brand names and in devices that have a wide range of designs (some look similar to regular cigarettes, cigars or pipes; some may look like pens, USB sticks and other objects). Most, though, have a battery, some type of heating element and a reservoir to hold liquid.

They produce aerosol vapors by heating a liquid. Users then inhale that vapor, though it also can be inhaled secondhand by anyone nearby.

E-cigarettes may contain any combination of these three things:

  • Nicotine
  • Flavoring, including diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease (“popcorn lung”)
  • THC (the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana)

They may also contain other harmful substances, such as:

  • Cancer-causing chemicals
  • Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead
  • Ultrafine particles able to be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Vitamin E acetate, linked to e-cigarette/vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI)

What are the effects of vaping in teens?

Especially concerning is vaping by teens — young people are picking up a potentially addictive and dangerous habit at an age when they’re still growing. Research shows that nicotine can affect the development of the lungs as well as the brain, which continues developing well into one’s 20s. The amount of nicotine in one JUUL pod is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes. And, while not all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they still have chemicals in them that can irritate the lungs.

The FDA warns that vaping is “not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”

Vaping health concerns: Is it ever safe to vape?

In some individual cases, vaping may be a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products. Specifically, nicotine vaping is recommended only for adults (with the exception of pregnant women) and only when used as a replacement for using combustible tobacco products. However, it’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of e-cigarettes with your doctor as a smoking cessation aid.

Vaping isn’t safer or healthier than using no tobacco or smoking products at all.

THC vaping is not ever considered safe – especially for products that are “black market” produced or sold.

Vaping’s health effects

The U.S. is experiencing an outbreak of what’s called EVALI (E-cigarette/vaping-associated lung injury), a respiratory illness with symptoms including:

  • coughing
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • fever

As of early February 2020, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported over 2,750 EVALI cases and 64 EVALI deaths in the United States.  

Potential causes of EVALI

Two substances have been linked to EVALI: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and vitamin E acetate. Vaping products containing THC been linked to most EVALI cases, and vitamin E acetate is strongly linked to the illness. However, evidence isn’t yet sufficient to rule out the role of other chemicals in both THC and non-THC vaping products in EVALI.

How Ohio State can help with vaping and EVALI

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has developed a vaping-specific initiative to address EVALI concerns. The Ohio State Vaping Connection links you with the health experts who can address your individual needs, whether you’re worried about EVALI symptoms or are just interested in learning how to quit vaping successfully.

Depending on what you need, that care may start with your primary care provider and an EVALI screening, or through one of Ohio State’s smoking cessation programs. If it turns out after you see a primary care provider that you need more specialized care, you’ll be referred to one of Ohio State’s pulmonologists for further treatment.

Call 614-366-VAPE for more information, or take our quiz to learn more about how Ohio State can help you or a loved one.

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