Once thought to be safe, or, at least, safer than traditional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) have become alarmingly popular, especially with teenagers. Now, more and more evidence is showing that e-cigs are not safe at all, and that they carry many of the same harmful effects as tobacco and many additional health risks not seen with smoking traditional cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4.9% (1 out of every 20) middle school students and nearly 21% (1 out of every 5) of high school students admit to using e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have only been on the market for a short time, and up until now, there were not that many studies done on vaping. As more and more scientific evidence is published, a clearer picture of the dangers of these tobacco alternatives is coming into view. State governments are taking notice of the increased use of e-cigarettes among adolescents and teens and are creating laws to better regulate the sale and use of vaping products.
Scientific Evidence of Vaping Dangers
One study published recently by the Stanford University School of Medicine showed that vaping leads to an increased risk of heart disease. Researchers at the University of California at Riverside have also published a study that indicates that e-cigarettes “cause stress-induced mitochondrial hyperfusion” (SIMH) in the brain’s stem cells. The study was published in the online journal, iScience, with author Atena Zahedi saying the following about e-cigarettes: “Although originally introduced as safer, ECs, such as Vuse and JUUL, are not harmless. Even short-term exposure can stress cells in a manner that may lead, with chronic use, to cell death or disease.”
Zahedi also said that damaged stem cell mitochondria could “accelerate aging and lead to neurodegenerative diseases. Neural stem cells can get exposed to nicotine through the olfactory route. Users inhale the fumes, which can travel through the olfactory tracks to reach the brain.” The authors of this study stressed that pregnant woman and youth should be especially cautious of using e-cigarettes. “Nicotine exposure during prenatal or adolescent development can affect the brain in multiple ways that may impair memory, learning, and cognition.” The brains of youth are in a critical developmental stage, and the authors stress these two groups are especially susceptible to the dangers of e-cigarettes.
The neural stem cell research in this study was funded by grants from the Center for Tobacco Products of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Taking Steps to Ban This Dangerous Product
Since e-cigarettes hit the market in 2007, they have become more and more popular with adolescents and teens. By 2014, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among high school and middle school students. In 2018, the FDA warned e-cigarette companies to stop marketing to children and proposed restricting the sale of flavored vaping products to minors. Flavors like cherry and vanilla are appealing to teenagers because they don’t taste like traditional cigarettes and don’t have the telltale smell of traditional cigarettes that’s easily detected by parents and teachers.
Since the FDA warned e-cig companies to stop marketing to minors, some cities have considered or have actually taken action to prohibit the sale of e-cigs, especially to minors. On June 25, 2019, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in the city; ironically, San Francisco is the corporate home of Juul Labs, the biggest producer of e-cigarettes in the United States.
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