E-Cigarettes and Vaping: What Public Health Professionals Should Know
According to a recent study, 25% of 12th grade students in the U.S. said they had vaped nicotine in the past month.1 The explosive growth in vaping likely stems from several factors: It’s viewed as less harmful than smoking, it doesn’t carry the same smell and stigma, and it offers an array of appealing flavor choices. People who have smoked for years might try e-cigarettes as an alternative, hoping to break the habit for good. But while vaping seems less hazardous, it’s far from harmless. As a public health professional, here’s what you should know:
- Vaping is linked to EVALI.
More than 2,800 people have been hospitalized or died from e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury (EVALI).2 Symptoms of EVALI include shortness of breath, coughing, and digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. EVALI is likely caused by a buildup of oil or white blood cells on the walls of the lung, and it’s been linked to vaping products that contain certain ingredients, such as THC and CBD.
- E-cigarettes contain nicotine—sometimes at higher levels than traditional cigarettes.
Some popular brands of e-cigarettes contain very high levels of nicotine, the highly addictive chemical that’s in both traditional cigarettes and most vaping products. In fact, some e-cigarette products have more than twice the amount of nicotine in traditional cigarettes. For young people, early exposure to nicotine can lead to a lifetime of addiction—and nicotine itself is not without harmful side effects. It’s known to raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack.
- Vaping rarely helps smokers quit.
While some vaping products are marketed as tools for smokers who want to quit, the FDA does not approve e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices. In fact, most smokers who try e-cigarettes end up continuing to smoke both types of product.
- Black market vaping devices and liquids may contain dangerous substances such as vitamin E acetate.
Modifying e-cigarettes or e-liquids is a common practice that can lead to serious consequences. Some added ingredients can be toxic, such as vitamin E acetate, which is used to thicken vaping products and has been linked to cases of EVALI. And even popular brand-name products may include hazardous chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze.3
- There’s much we still don’t know about the effects of vaping.
While using e-cigarettes appears to be less harmful than smoking, it’s still a relatively new practice and we cannot know the long-term consequences. Recent research from around the world found that e-cigarettes contain multiple carcinogenic chemicals and cause breathing difficulties in users of all ages.3 Clearly, it’s wise to avoid these products and to encourage others—particularly young people—to do the same.
Public health professionals and community health workers have the opportunity to make a positive impact as they promote healthy choices and educate the public about potentially harmful practices, such as vaping. One of the easiest ways to make such an impact is through health education. Helping communities better understand the perils of vaping and the risk they’re taking when they choose to use e-cigarettes can go a long way toward keeping young people safe.
If you’re interested in furthering your career as a public health professional, pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) or an MS in Health Education and Promotion is a great way to diversify your options. With an MS in Health Education and Promotion, you’ll be prepared to design health education materials and promote prevention as a path to greater public wellness. With an MPH degree, you’ll be equipped to become a public health policymaker, administrator, researcher, or educator.
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