October 20 kicks off Respiratory Care Week, and to recognize the importance of strong, healthy lungs, we’d like to shed some light on what’s becoming a huge threat to the health of teens and adults alike. In recent years, e-cigarettes, also known as vapes or vape pens, have grown more popular. Vapes were originally designed and marketed as a nicotine-delivery tool to help adult cigarette smokers break the habit, but with sleek, high-tech looking packaging and flavors like cotton candy, bubblegum, and strawberry cheesecake, kids as young as 12 have been seeking them out – and getting hooked.
Ask almost any middle-school or high-school kid: vapes are all too common on campus, filling up bathrooms with flavored smoke. Kids believe vapes are only flavor and water, and many adults are unconcerned, thinking, “At least it’s safer than smoking.” Indeed, many of the products are advertised as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but they’re anything but harmless.
Vapes Can Cause Serious or Fatal Lung Disease
“The lungs are designed to use air: not smoke or chemicals,” says Dr. Ilan Shapiro, an AltaMed pediatrician. This is the reason why we’ve recently been seeing news stories about serious lung conditions that were linked to vaping. Just in the past few months, mysterious vape-induced lung diseases killed six and more than 300 individuals got sick, with many of those people ending up in the hospital.
Even with the nation’s top doctors, scientists, and research centers working together to find an answer, the unfortunate truth is that no one is 100% sure of what is causing the illness.
Another reason why vaping is dangerous is that the product has not been around that long. There hasn’t been enough time to do meaningful, long-term research on its effects, and the products themselves still are not strongly regulated. In fact, consumers can’t even be certain that vape products are labeled correctly. For example, one study found that even vape juice pods that were supposed to be nicotine-free contained some amount of nicotine.
Vaping Has Been Called a Youth Epidemic
Vaping is bad for everyone, but vaping’s effects hit kids and teens harder, for several reasons.
Because children’s brains are still developing, early exposure to potent doses of nicotine can rewire their brains, leaving them even more likely to become addicted and engage in other risky substances. Research indicates that kids who vape are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes (compared to kids who don’t vape) – and many of those kids start smoking within six months of their first hit off a vape pen.
In addition to harming the lungs and the brain, vaping is just as bad for the heart and cardiovascular systems as regular cigarettes are.
If You’re a Parent, Here’s How to Keep Your Kids Safe
Even if all of your child’s friends are vaping, don’t underestimate the power you have to make a difference. Here’s what you can do to help make sure your teens don’t start vaping:
- Set a good example. Don’t use tobacco products yourself. If you do, get help to quit.
- Have an open and honest conversation. Don’t be judgmental: listen and encourage your child to tell you what they’re going through.
- Make these conversations a habit. Your child may be repeatedly be faced with the temptation to vape, so try to have these conversations often.
- Arm yourself with the facts. As a rule, scare tactics won’t dissuade your child. Educate yourself with scientific evidence and stories from trusted news sources.
Get Help to Break the Smoking or Vaping Habit
“Today we are extremely worried that young healthy adults are dying, related to their use of vaping products, and we need to avoid these chemicals and products to safeguard our community,” said Dr. Shapiro.
If you or a loved one needs help to quit tobacco use or vaping, call the California Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-NO BUTTS or visit nobutts.org. Available in multiple languages, the program offers free counseling and support services.
For any other health concerns or questions, call AltaMed at 888-499-9303. We’re here to support you and your family’s healthy lifestyle, with primary care, specialty care, and preventive screenings and checkups.