The increase in e-cigarette use, particularly among young people, is a dangerous trend with real health risks. For many reasons, e-cigarettes should not be promoted as a safe alternative to smoking.
While fewer people are smoking or starting to smoke than ever before, many are using other forms of tobacco.1,2 The increase in vaping by kids and young people in recent years is a serious public health threat.3 Using an e-cigarette is sometimes called vaping or juuling. The battery-operated devices can look like conventional cigarettes, pens or even sleek tech gadgets. Users inhale and exhale aerosolized vapor. This way of taking in nicotine, sometimes referred to as ENDS (for Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems), poses health risks to both users and non-users.4,5
Many downsides. Few potential upsides.
E-cigarette promoters claim the devices can help people quit smoking. But much more evidence is needed to show their effectiveness for quitting cigarettes and other tobacco use. Instead, trends suggest that users are more likely to continue smoking along with vaping, which is referred to as “dual use.”6
The American Heart Association recommends proven methods to successfully quit smoking.
Many people think vaping is less harmful than smoking. While it’s true that e-cigarette aerosol or vapor doesn’t include all the contaminants in tobacco smoke, vaping still isn’t safe. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
- Most e-cigs deliver nicotine, which is highly addictive and may cause negative health effects such as harming the developing brains of teens, kids and fetuses in women who vape while pregnant.3,4 Some types expose users to even more nicotine than traditional cigarettes.
- E-cig vapor includes potentially harmful substances such as nicotine, diacetyl (a chemical linked to a serious lung disease), cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead.4 And because vapor is exhaled, those nearby are also exposed to these contaminants.
- The liquid used in e-cigs can be dangerous, even apart from its intended use. Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing or absorbing the liquid through their skin or eyes.4
E-cigarettes’ biggest threat to public health may be this: The increasing popularity of vaping may “re-normalize” smoking, which has declined for years. Reversing the hard-won gains in the global effort to curb smoking would be catastrophic. Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death and is responsible for 480,000 American lives lost each year.
A threat to young people.
Tobacco companies want to hook a new generation on nicotine and the allure of smoking.
- In 2014 alone, they spent more than $125 million on aggressive marketing. In that same year, almost half of US teens ages 12-17 and more than 80 percent of young adults ages 18-21 were exposed to magazine ads for e-cigs.3
- Vaping is now the most common form of tobacco use by kids and teens. In 2018, vaping by high school students in the U.S. doubled from the previous year.
- Many students say they’ve tried e-cigarettes in part because of the flavors in the liquids.7
More effort and research are needed.
In a 2016 report, the Surgeon General called e-cigarette use among young people a “public health concern.”3 The American Heart Association shares that view. That’s why we advocate for stronger regulations that:
- Increase e-cigarette taxes to influence youth purchasing decisions.
- Ban characterizing flavors other than tobacco or menthol.
- Include e-cigarettes in smoke-free laws that prohibit the sale and marketing of tobacco to minors.
The AHA supports maintaining the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory authority over e-cigarettes along with other tobacco products.
The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are not well understood yet. But the science suggests vaping is not a safe or healthy alternative to smoking conventional cigarettes. We’ll continue to support research into the health consequences of this and other tobacco product trends that aim to appeal to a new generation of users.
Sources: 1 Smoking in America: Why more Americans are kicking the habit, AHA News, August 2018
2 Tobacco Use: Extinguishing the Epidemic, Centers for Disease Control, 2017 https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/pdf/2017/tobacco-aag-H.pdf
3 E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2016 https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/2016_sgr_full_report_non-508.pdf
4 Electronic Cigarettes, Centers for Disease Control website, updated 2018 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/index.htm
6 Dual Use of Tobacco Products, Centers for Disease Control website, updated 2018 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/dual-tobacco-use.html
7 Chemicals used to flavor tobacco may damage blood vessels, AHA News, June 2018 https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/07/12/chemicals-used-to-flavor-tobacco-may-damage-blood-vessels