Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery-powered devices regularly used as a more healthful alternative to regular cigarettes.
E-cigarettes sometimes contain nicotine, and sometimes they use nicotine-free solutions.
They offer users a similar sensation to smoking, but they do not produce smoke. Instead, they heat up the e-liquid they contain and create vapor, which is why using these devices is sometimes referred to as “vaping.”
However, while many adult users opt for e-cigarettes to ease themselves out of their smoking habit, some researchers have raised concerns that teenagers may be using them as a gateway into this very habit.
E-cigarette usage seems to be popular among many teenagers, despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have banned the sale of such devices to people under 18.
But recent research from the University of California, San Francisco now reveals that we may have more to worry about when it comes to teenage use of e-cigarettes — beyond addiction and the possibility of transitioning to traditional cigarettes.
Lead study author Dr. Mark L. Rubinstein and his team have found that teenagers who “vape” may be exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals that have been linked to cancer. Their findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.
Such toxic substances, the researchers add, are found both in e-cigarettes and in traditional ones, and teenagers need to be aware that even by opting for nicotine-free devices, they may still put themselves in harm’s way.
“Teenagers need to be warned that the vapor produced by e-cigarettes is not harmless water vapor, but actually contains some of the same toxic chemicals found in smoke from traditional cigarettes. Teenagers should be inhaling air, not products with toxins in them.”
Dr. Mark L. Rubinstein
Carcinogens threaten teenagers’ health
In order to reach their conclusions, Dr. Rubinstein and team collected and analyzed urine samples from 104 adolescents, aged 16.4 years, on average.
Of these, 67 were e-cigarette users, 17 used e-cigarettes as well as traditional ones, and 20 did not smoke or vape (the controls).
Their analysis revealed that the teenagers who vaped had a three times higher concentration of toxic compounds in their bodies than their non-vaping peers. In the case of teenagers who used both tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes, the concentration of toxic chemicals in the body was three times higher than in the case of adolescents who only vaped.
“E-cigarettes,” Dr. Rubinstein says, “are marketed to adults who are trying to reduce or quit smoking as a safer alternative to cigarettes. While they may be beneficial to adults as a form of harm reduction, kids should not be using them at all.”
This was the first study to have investigated the presence of toxic, carcinogenic substances in the bodies of teenage e-cigarette users. Some of the harmful chemicals that the scientists tested for were acrylonitrile, acrolein, propylene oxide, acrylamide, and crotonaldehyde — all of which are listed as carcinogenic or potentially carcinogenic to humans.
Some of the substances tested for were detected in the bodies of adolescents who used flavored, nicotine-free e-cigarette liquid. These included propylene glycol and glycerol, which, although approved by the FDA, “can form carcinogenic compounds when heated.”
“[W]hen they’re heated to the high temperatures required for vaporization, they can produce toxic substances that are potentially carcinogenic,” notes Dr. Rubinstein.
The study authors conclude, “[A]s with traditional cigarettes, messaging to teenagers must include warnings about the potential risk from toxic exposure to carcinogenic compounds generated by these products.”