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Vaping and E-cigarettes – A Healthy Alternative to Smoking?

August 3rd, 2017     By Greg Snyder, Ph. D. | Boys Town Staff Psychologist

Discipline, Kids and Teens in Crisis, Parenting Skills, Teens, Troubled Youth, Tweens

At first blush, it seems like a positive step: A former cigarette smoker switches to vaping, or using an e-cigarette. It seems good because the person is no longer inhaling the smoke from burning tobacco leaves and the associated additives — something the U.S. Surgeon General (and common sense) tells us is bad. Then consider the fact that cigarette smoking by teens is at an all-time low. So, good news, right?

Not necessarily. While teen smoking is indeed at record lows, e-cigarette use among teens is on the rise. Some teens are drawn to its novelty. Some are attracted by the thousands of available flavors of “juice.” Some, too, believe it’s a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

Vaping Is Still ‘Smoking’
Although the delivery mechanism has been modernized, and e-cigarette “smoke” is actually aerosolized vapor, smoking an e-cigarette is still smoking, per se. It still involves the inhalation of a heated substance that often contains nicotine and other additives. And nicotine is a known health hazard that adversely affects the vascular system and fetal development and may promote tumor growth.

Non-nicotine e-liquids are available, but these still contain artificial flavors and chemicals that, while technically approved for food use, have not been fully evaluated by the FDA as e-liquid components to be inhaled into the lungs. Their approval as food additives, however, allows e-liquid manufacturers to state that they’re “safe” — a claim that is disingenuous at best. And let’s not forget that dangerous compounds such as thalidomide and DDT were once also deemed “safe” by the federal government.

Vaping’s Behavioral Effects
In addition to its possible negative health effects, vaping has another potential downside. For the past 20 years or so, the government has done just about everything to make traditional smoking more difficult. It has banned it in most public spaces. It has increased taxes to the point where a pack-a-day habit can cost a person upwards of $9,000 over five years.

Society in general has intervened, too. Once the chic affect of Hollywood stars and the jet set, smoking is now often seen as a dirty habit engaged in chiefly by the lower classes. All of this has contributed to the aforementioned decrease in cigarette and smokeless tobacco use among teens.

With the advent of e-cigarettes, vaping is now much easier and more socially acceptable than smoking. It can be done at work and in the back of your Uber ride. It’s often seen as a “healthy alternative” to traditional smoking. So, the person who vapes to “quit smoking” begins to create a learned relationship between many more situations and nicotine use. This might actually make quitting (as defined as a nicotine-free life) more difficult.

Furthermore, a recent article published in the JAMA Pediatrics reveals that studies of 17,389 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 30 demonstrated that adolescents were at increased risk, not decreased risk, of future smoking if they had used e-cigarettes in the past.

The bottom line is that the jury is still out on vaping, but it’s not looking good. So, if you suspect your teen is using e-cigarettes, don’t breathe a sigh of relief that they’re not smoking traditional cigarettes. Vaping could be just as bad. The best position is to discourage your children from all forms of nicotine use, traditional, electronic or otherwise.

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