In the last several years, vaping has become one of the most popular ways to use tobacco and marijuana. But how much do you really know about the dangers and deceptions of vaping?

What is Vaping?

A “vape,” or electronic cigarette, is a device that heats up liquids — usually containing nicotine and other chemicals — to create an aerosol, or vapor, that can be inhaled.

Vaping devices come in many different shapes and sizes. They can look like a traditional cigarette, pen, or flash drive, and be small enough to fit in your closed fist. The size of these devices and the less visible smoke they produce make e-cigarettes more discreet.

Some e-cigarettes are used to vape marijuana, THC oil, CBD oil, or other dangerous chemicals.

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The Health Effects of Vaping

Many people believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking, but that’s not the case. For vaping devices, nicotine is largely unregulated, making it difficult to know exactly what consumers are inhaling. For example, a single cartridge for an e-cigarette may contain nicotine equaling the amount in one pack of cigarettes.

Nicotine, a stimulant that can harm the developing adolescent brain, is found in many e-cigarettes — although it is not always listed on the product label, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For example, nicotine has been found in some e-cigarettes marketed as containing none of it. Using nicotine can harm parts of your brain that control your:

  • Attention span
  • Impulse control
  • Learning
  • Mood

“Nicotine is just as addictive as heroin or cocaine,” says Carmen Allmond, RRT, respiratory therapist and certified smoke cessation counselor at UPMC St. Margaret. “It can harm the developing brain and lead to more serious health issues.”

According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration findings, vapes may include other harmful substances besides nicotine, including:

  • Cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Flavorings, including diacetyl, a chemical linked to lung disease, and bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare chronic disease known as “popcorn lung.”
  • Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, lead, and aluminum.
  • Ultra-fine particles that can damage your lungs.
  • Propylene glycol, a liquid that turns into formaldehyde when heated. Formaldehyde is used as a preservative in mortuaries and medical labs.

As of February 2020, there were more than 2,800 cases of e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injuries (EVALI) reported from all 50 states, two territories, and Washington, D.C. There have been 68 reported deaths in 29 states. According to the CDC, 66% of those who experienced EVALIs were males.

Inhaling e-cigarettes has even been linked to a greater risk of COVID-19 infection. Vaping can damage your lungs, which significantly elevates your risk of contracting the virus, according to a study conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine.

A Younger Generation of Vapers

E-cigarettes are very popular among young people, especially those between the ages of 15 and 24. According to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 3.6 million children in middle school and high school use e-cigarettes.

In Pennsylvania, the minimum age to purchase tobacco products was raised to 21 in July 2020, in the hopes of preventing adolescents from getting hooked on vaping devices. In most other states, the required age is 18. Vaping is not limited to adolescents. An estimated 8.1 million adults in the United States used e-cigarettes in 2018, according to the National Health Interview Survey.

Because of its recent surge in popularity, there is little research on the long-term effects of vaping.

“Those who vape are putting themselves in real danger, as it’s much more dangerous for your lungs,” Allmond explains. “People who have been smoking cigarettes since adolescence are seeing the harmful effects by the time they are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. With vaping, we are seeing these harmful effects much faster, within five years.”

How UPMC Can Help You Quit

For those interested in trying to quit vaping or smoking, UPMC St. Margaret offers a free, individualized Smoking Cessation Program. Allmond leads the program and says the ultimate goal is to get people to stop smoking.

“Vaping is an addiction, and it takes work to quit the habit. There isn’t a magic pill or anything that will automatically help you quit — I wish there was. However, with encouragement, weekly phone calls, and having someone in your corner to support you along the way, I am confident that you can achieve a smoke-free lifestyle.”

Individuals of any age are welcome to participate in the program. To register for the Smoking Cessation Program, call 412-784-5043.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.