New research uncovers health risks of vaping

The different contents within a Juul and a Vape pen.

Graphic by Rene Evans

The different contents within a Juul and a Vape pen.

By Megan Neal, Piper High School

The teen vaping epidemic has taken a turn for the worst as new research surfaces, bringing into question if vaping is truly the safer alternative to cigarettes many companies claim it to be.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been 26 confirmed vape related deaths, along with 1,300 cases of lung injury.

While vaping can be dated back to early 2000’s, the alternative to smoking did not reach its peak until recently. According to Harvard Health, 1.5 million more middle and high school aged students began vaping in 2018 as opposed to in 2017.

“I started vaping last year because I was going through a rough time and thought vaping would help. It didn’t,” said an anonymous freshman girl. “I never do it often though, maybe once a week or twice a month.”

Previously, no dangers were known in relation to vaping. However, concerns began arising as some substances found in vapes were linked to risks of cancer. According to Harvard Health, main concerns were the addictive nature of nicotine, leading to increased chances of smoking cigarettes in the future. Federal and state authorities urged people to quit until more was known, but were ignored by many.

“I really didn’t know the dangers before I started but I did think it was so much better than smoking a cigarette,” said the anonymous freshman.

While cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals, it is true that e-cigarettes contain fewer toxic chemicals. However, it should not be ignored that e-cigarettes still contain nicotine, heavy metals and cancer causing agents.

“Anytime you put something on or into your body, whether it’s on your skin, swallowing, or inhaling, there is a potential for side effects,” said school nurse Meghan Leduc. “So regardless of whether or not it has nicotine in it, there is still potential for vaping to do some damage to either the lung tissue itself or systemic damage from the chemicals inside. These products are completely unregulated, which means that no one is testing them to ensure the safety and quality of the additives that are put in them.”

Results from a study done by New York University have been able to link vaping to lung disease. Mice were exposed to the amount of e-cigarette vapor containing nicotine a person may experience from around three years of vaping. After 54 weeks, 23% of mice developed lung cancer, while none of the mice exposed to nicotine free vapor developed cancer over the four years the mice were monitored. The results also suggests that second-hand vapor may pose a risk similar to second-hand smoke from cigarettes.

“Just like with the early days of cigarette smoking, there are not enough, if any, long term studies to definitively show the side effects of vaping,” Leduc said. “Unfortunately, only time will tell us all the dangers of vaping.”

Blame has often been placed on the additives some use in vapes, such as THC, the active compound in marijuana. The FDA urged consumers to avoid vapes with any unknown or added substances, due to a study showing that out of 18 deaths due to lung illness, 12 were linked to vapes with THC. However, more information is needed before the link between the two is definite.

“Along with the physical health problems we are seeing, behavior and addictions problems are increasing as well,” Leduc said. “With the various additives that are put into vaping cartridges to include THC, flavorings, nicotine, etc., there is the potential for an unlimited number of side effects that are still largely unknown.”

Despite the new discoveries regarding vaping and their risks, many students continue.

“I think people have a choice of how they want to live their lives and what they do in it,” the anoynomus freshman said. “Most everyone knows what’s in vapes and makes their own risk if they want to do it or not.”

Recently, school districts including Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley have moved to sue the company Juul, claiming the company deliberately targets school aged children with misleading marketing.

The school districts aim to prove that they have had to spend excess money, time and resources to deal with the vaping epidemic. Additional counselors, resource officers and devices used to detect vapes have been brought into these districts.

The suing districts have also claimed that addicted students are unable to get through the day, due to the distractions of the vapes.

Although senior Natalie Frick does not vape herself, she believes some teens are not paying attention to the harmful things they could be putting into their body.

“As a society, I do think a lot of our generation vapes. Vaping is a bandwagon and a lot of teens have hopped on it,” Frick said. “We don’t know everything that we are putting in our bodies when we vape and we don’t know how harmful the effects of vaping are yet.”

For students wanting to quit, there are pamphlets in Leduc’s office, along with multiple online resources she encourages students to check out.

This story was originally published on KC Piper News on November 19, 2019.