This article originally appeared on the LSIS blog.
What is an E-cigarette?
E-cigarettes were developed as a way to help smokers stop using tobacco. But more and more people — especially teens — use these devices for fun and to look stylish or “cool”. Because e-cigarettes burn nothing, they release no smoke. They heat up a liquid that a user inhales or “vapes”.
There’s no question that a puff on an e-cigarette is less toxic than a puff on a regular cigarette. Studies have shown, however, that electronic cigarettes marketed as safer than regular cigarettes, deliver a mixture of toxic chemicals, including carcinogens, into the lungs.
Scientists have begun to worry that teens might face harm from the nicotine and other substances in these products.
What is nicotine?
Nicotine is a natural chemical found in tobacco and other plants. It is responsible for the buzz smokers get from tobacco. It also is the chemical that makes tobacco addictive. Physicians worry that teens who practice vaping — the term for “smoking” electronic cigarettes — may develop an addiction to nicotine. And they note that nicotine can be toxic. Again, researchers have identified other toxic ingredients, as well, in some flavorings used in e-cigarettes.
How addictive is nicotine?
A report by the U.S. Surgeon General summarized decades of research on nicotine effects. Those findings “suggest that exposure to nicotine in youth increases the risk of nicotine addiction,” the new report notes. The report also pointed to data showing that “nicotine exposure during adolescence, a critical window for brain development, may have lasting adverse consequences.”
A 2007 study that found teens can show addictive behavior within two days of first smoking traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes will likely have less nicotine than a tobacco product. But manufacturers do not have to report how much. So there is no way to know how much a teen might be exposed to through vaping.