The Food and Drug Administration has tried to snuff out sales of a top electronic cigarette brand, igniting a fierce legal battle over the safety of products heavily promoted as “healthier” than traditional cigarettes.
Raising the question – are e-cigarettes healthier?
No, said Alyssa Dittner, a complex disease navigator and COPD program coordinator for Novant Health in the Winston-Salem region. She recently answered questions from the media about vaping and the impact of the government's decision to pull approvals from Juul lab products.
What are e-cigarettes, aka vapes?
E-cigarettes — also called vape pens, tank systems and mods — are small devices that heat up a cartridge containing a liquid, turning the liquid into an aerosol that users inhale.
That liquid usually contains nicotine, and one cartridge can hold as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes. And Dittner said people can easily lose track of how much they’re inhaling.
The current controversy
The FDA recently withdrew its authorization for Juul Labs Inc. to sell its Juul vaping products in the United States, finding the company didn’t prove they benefit public health. Juul Labs is fighting the decision in court.
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The dangers of vaping
Dittner shared a long list of the hazards that come from smoking e-cigarettes. And the risks are similar to those smokers of traditional cigarettes face – with some additional dangers.
E-cigarette smokers are still absorbing nicotine, which raises blood pressure, increases heart rate and narrows arteries.
Nicotine can also cause heart attacks, stroke, respiratory illness and COPD — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Vaping companies have long focused their marketing tactics on teenagers. That age group is at additional risk for neurological impacts from e-cigarettes because a person’s brain doesn’t fully develop until age 25, Dittner said. Nicotine can affect the brain’s function, including attention and memory. It can also exacerbate the symptoms of depression, anxiety and hyperactivity.
The long-term effects are not known.
E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes last year.
Talking to children about vaping
With e-cigarettes so popular among youth, many adults wonder how, and when, to start talking about the dangers.
Dittner said she already talks to her 5-year-old son about the hazards of vaping. And how there are other things a person can do to make themselves happy.
She suggested adults may want to try a nontraditional approach when talking to adolescents and teens – instead of focusing on the negatives of vaping, talk to them about why people do it. Look at the psychology behind vaping, and talk about the behavioral health portion of it.
Dittner said a lot of people vape because they need a release. And smoking nicotine releases dopamine, that “feel-good brain chemical.” So, maybe that teen needs a new hobby or interest, or, they may need to talk to a counselor.
Major win. More battles.
The recent FDA action targets just one e-cigarette manufacturer, leaving many others for vapers to turn to.
Still, Dittner called the move a major win in the fight against nicotine. She said it may seem like a “drop in the bucket,” but it’s a win and she’ll take it.
Dittner recommends Live Vape Free, which provides services to youth and their parents. Youth ages 13-17 can enroll by texting VAPEFREENC to 873373. They may also text “Coach” for immediate access to a coach.