Kids & Family Health

The Health Risks of Vaping

When e-cigarettes, also known as vapes, first came onto the market they were promoted as a healthy alternative to cigarettes — a way to kick the tobacco habit. Instead, vapes have become a preferred source of nicotine, especially among adolescents and teens.

Talk with any middle or high school student, and it's clear that vapes are popular on campuses across the nation. Many kids view vapes as harmless, believing them to consist solely of flavored water, while some adults see them as a healthy alternative to smoking. In reality, vaping is a serious risk to the health of your children.

The Danger

"The lungs are engineered to inhale air, not smoke or chemicals," says AltaMed’s Chief Health Correspondent and Medical Affairs Officer Ilan Shapiro, MD, FAAP, and FACHE.

The problem with vaping starts at its core function – the delivery of nicotine and chemicals into the throat and lungs. Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant drug and is “the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco products” per The Alcohol and Drug Foundation. When used regularly, it can hurt the parts of our brain that control attention and learning. 

Aside from its addictiveness through nicotine, vaping also exposes users to harmful toxins including benzene (found in car exhaust) and diacetyl (a chemical tied to uncurable lung disease). What’s more, e-cigarettes have been found to deposit heavy metals like lead and nickel into our airways.

All of these risks can add up down the road. While more studies are needed to fully understand the lasting effects of vaping, research has shown an increased risk of lung scarring, organ damage, brain impairment, addiction, and even cancer.

The Youth Movement

According to the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), more than 2.5 million middle and high school students used vapes last year. Nearly half of high school students (46%) vape regularly — 20 or more times over the past 30 days — according to the survey. Slightly more than 30% vape daily.

These devices have evolved dramatically, designed to mimic highlighters, pens, and other common items. They even come in flavors that highly appeal to children. Cotton candy, bubblegum, and strawberry cheesecake are just a few scents enticing smokers as young as 12.

Vaping takes a toll on your body at any age, but the consequences for youth are especially dangerous. Due to their ongoing brain development, exposure to high doses of nicotine can rewire adolescents' brains, heightening the risk of addiction and use of other harmful substances. Studies show those who vape are four times more likely to later smoke cigarettes. Additionally, the harm from vaping goes beyond the lungs and brain, threatening the heart and cardiovascular system.

A Parent's Role

Parents continue to wield significant influence in shaping their children's choices. The following steps can help in safeguarding your teens:

  • Lead by example — Avoid tobacco products yourself and seek assistance if you're looking to quit.
  • Open dialogue — Foster open and honest conversations with your children, offering nonjudgmental listening and encouragement.
  • Consistency is key — Make these discussions a routine occurrence, as your child is likely to face continuous vaping temptations.
  • Equip yourself — Employing scare tactics rarely works; instead, empower yourself with accurate information from credible news sources.

Seeking Support

"We remain 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," Dr. Shapiro says.

If you or a loved one requires assistance in overcoming tobacco use or vaping, a lifeline is available through Kick It California. This program, available in multiple languages, extends free counseling and support services.

Remember that AltaMed is always here to support your family's health journey. From primary care and preventive screenings to dental services, see what we can do for you. Get started at 888-499-9303.

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The Health Risks of Vaping