Don’t be fooled by the terminology. It may be called JUULing or “vaping,” but that doesn’t mean it’s as benign as inhaling water vapor. And these devices created to help smokers quit are now popular among young adults, teens and even tweens.
Michael Ong, M.D., professor of medicine at UCLA and chair of the State of California Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee, offers his insights on e-cigarettes.
In what ways are cigarette smoking and vaping similar and different?
They are different in the sense that vaping devices don’t burn the tobacco product. Also, the part that contains the nicotine is much more potent than a cigarette. One JUUL pod has the nicotine equivalent of 20 cigarettes. That’s a huge amount.
There are some elements that are similar. The main thing is that there is nicotine in them. And while if you’re not burning a product, that may reduce the carcinogenic load, nicotine itself has psychoactive properties and has an effect on your cardiovascular system.
What is the allure of these products for kids and teens?
These often come with flavors. Most youth are not that interested in trying something that’s tobacco-flavored. But if it’s candy-flavored, that’s something that they’re going to be much more interested in.
We also know that there’s a lot of peer pressure in terms of using these types of products.
What are some of the health risks that we know these products pose?
The biggest thing would be the cardiovascular risks, which are significant. The other thing is that nicotine works directly on the brain.
Things they include to simulate smoke, like propylene glycol, when they get heated, can create other types of compounds that can have significant health effects. A couple of years ago, this was highlighted by one product that created acrolein, a chemical compound that causes popcorn lung, which can damage lungs extensively.
And people who are using electronic cigarettes and vaping devices are on the order of three times to five times more likely to take up traditional cigarette smoking.
When should parents talk with their kids about vaping?
We have laws that have prevented tobacco products from being on television or in magazines or newspapers for a long time. These products are not subject to that regulation, so they’re out in public media. It’s important for parents to start talking about it because their kids are probably seeing it already.
Reports from the Youth Risk Behavioral Survey that came out a few years ago suggested that up to 40 percent of high school-aged youth had used an electronic cigarette device at some point.
What should parents do if their child is vaping?
It’s important for them to let their doctors know. These products are things that parents should be concerned about, and they need to be vigilant.