Exploring the Dangers of E-cigarettes

By Dr. Tomomi Hayashi, pediatric resident at CHOC Children’s

Cigarette-like devices have gained in popularity among teenagers in recent years. If you’re the parent of an adolescent, it’s important to separate fact versus fiction with these devices.

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are battery-powered smoking devices that use cartridges filled with liquid containing nicotine. This liquid is then converted to a vapor which is inhaled. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 16 percent of high school students are currently using e-cigs, as of 2015. There are a variety of these delivery units: disposable cartridges that look just like a cigarette, all the way to complex rechargeable vaporizers.

E-cigarettes vs Cigarettes

E-cigarettes, unlike regular cigarettes, do not burn tobacco and therefore the individual does not inhale the same amount of tar and carbon monoxide. As a result, many people incorrectly assume they are safe to use. One common misconception is that e-cigarettes do not contain nicotine or other harmful substances. This is not true. In fact, e-cigarettes contain nicotine as well as other chemicals (toxicants, carcinogens and metal particles), that are harmful to the individual inhaling the substances and the people around them.

E-cigarettes contain anywhere from 0-36mg/ml of nicotine, while conventional cigarettes contain 10-30 mg of nicotine per cigarette. Nicotine is both toxic and addictive. It is absorbed into the lungs and body, affecting multiple systems including the brain and nervous system, as well as the heart by raising blood pressure, heart rate and possibly leading to abnormal heart rhythms. There is even the potential for heart failure and death. For children and adolescents, it can be very harmful to brain development. Because it is an addictive substance, once stopped individuals can feel depressed and tired. With prolonged use, nicotine can have serious effects on the body leading to heart disease, blood clots and stomach ulcers. Just like with smoking regular cigarettes, nonusers can be affected by emissions through second- and third-hand exposure.

While exposure to some chemical components has been shown to be lower in e-cigarettes, studies have shown comparable exposure to formaldehyde (a carcinogen), as well as increased exposure to compounds known to irritate the lungs and contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Alternatives for smokers

Because using e-cigarettes mimics cigarette use, the best way to quit cigarettes is to promote alternatives including gums and patches. Consult your primary care doctor with questions and information on a plan that is right for you.

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