Bubble gum flavored clouds and quick puffs in bathroom stalls have defined modern young adult and teen culture as vapes become increasingly prevalent. Vaping has quickly replaced regular smoking as the new American pastime and addiction, with over 9% of Americans regularly or occasionally vaping as of 2018.
Vaping is a Problematic Recreational Activity – Especially for teens
Vapes have especially become an increasingly common part of teen culture. Over a quarter of high school students vape, some on a daily basis and others in social settings. Despite it being against the law, vapes have become increasingly accessible to high schoolers through social networks and fake IDs. They have also been extremely popular with them through their flavors that not only create a pleasant taste but also allow these students to hide their smoking easily.
In total, over 2 million middle and high schoolers in the United States vape, accompanied by many more adults. The younger vaping starts, the more prevalent it becomes in the lives of Americans and the greater the likelihood of addiction. At the rate vape products are being consumed, vape product sales are predicted to reach $40 billion annually by 2023.
With vaping comes inevitable health consequences on this nation. The long-term consequences of vaping are still in early studies as vaping’s long-term effects cannot be fully determined when it has only been around for a short period of time (since 2003). Since it is a newer form of intake and there is less information about it, many still attempt to justify its recreational use as safe. However, the dangerous reality is that vaping is still comparable to smoking and has serious long-term consequences on individual health.
These consequences are often not thought of as people join in on the social aspect of vaping at parties or trying to calm down with a smoke. Vaping is not only addictive and can lead, but also has a significant role in causing lung damage, exacerbating asthma, increasing chances of developing niche disorders such as erectile dysfunction, and increasing the risk of getting COVID-19.
Nicotine is Addictive, Flavors are Toxic
To start, over 99% of vape products have nicotine in them. Nicotine is the addictive chemical found in tobacco that gets people unable to stop smoking. Not only are people unable to get off vaping when they start, as a result, but the nicotine also narrows arteries and hardens their walls of them, leading to an increased risk of heart attacks.
Nicotine is just one of the many chemicals that people consume when vaping though. Of the 7000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, over 250 of them are dangerous to human health. They can cause harm to not only those doing the smoking but also those around them, contributing to significant second-hand smoking consequences. Furthermore, the fun flavors of vapes can actually damage cells in the airways, increasing the risk of breathing problems in comparison to regular smoking.
Vaping is also associated with an increased likelihood of developing erectile dysfunction in males. In an observational study of 13,700 men over 2 years, those who smoked e-cigarettes were two times more likely to develop erectile dysfunction than those who did not smoke e-cigarettes. This incidence is justified by lower sperm count and testosterone levels in smokers that contributed to the increased rates of erectile dysfunction. In younger individuals, this may prove an obstacle to having children and starting families, then dropping community birth rates.
Smoking in General Leads to Lung Disease
Besides the chemicals themselves, the general practice of smoking is also associated with health risks, especially in terms of lung disease. While tobacco users are 160% more likely to develop lung disease than the general population, e-cigarette users are still 30% more likely to develop lung disease. Despite the lower likelihood of developing lung disease when using e-cigarettes, a 30% increase is still significant in contributing to asthmas, bronchitis, cancers, and more.
Smoking increases lung inflammation and airway inflammation, the latter of which leads to bronchitis. Mucus buildup, followed by coughing and wheezing is the body’s response to the inflammation as bronchitis progresses. Wheezing, which creates a whistling sound in one’s chest, as a symptom of bronchitis is twice as likely in smokers than non-smokers. These symptoms are also present in those exposed to secondhand smoking. Secondhand smoke exposure can increase the likelihood of developing bronchitis by 40% and make it 53% more likely to experience shortness of breath.
Similarly, those who vape are at higher risk for asthma attacks, and for high school students who vape, asthma attacks often result in school absences. Other symptoms of vape use include headaches, muscle aches, nausea, and vomiting, all of which can reduce educational performance and attendance.
During this pandemic, vaping has become an even more dangerous habit. COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that attacks the lungs, trachea, and other parts of the specific system that vaping also affects. One study found that in those ages 13-24, e-cigarette users were 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19. On top of increasing chances of infection, getting COVID-19 as a smoker is a complete double whammy to your respiratory system and immune system.
Vaping is Not All That Much Better than Smoking
The single most common argument for e-cigarette use is the justification that it is better than traditional smoking. It is possible for vaping to help current smokers ease off the habit, with one study finding that smokers who switched to e-cigarettes became 8 times more likely to quit smoking. However, only for those with no intention to quit smoking does this switch to vapes make sense. It is still extremely damaging to other users who smoke for recreation.
For those who are new to smoking in general, vaping serves as a gateway into cigarettes. Those who vape are 4 times more likely to use cigarettes in the future, leading to a much greater level of addiction and an introduction to the toxic chemicals of tobacco.
Vaping is life-threatening, addicting, and debilitating to users. It comes with serious long-term consequences including lung damage, the development of bronchities, increased risk for erectile dysfunction, and increased risk of getting COVID-19. What seems like a recreational activity is actually proving a new challenge to public health and youth health especially.