Various e-cigarettes including vape pens and mods

E-Cigarettes, Vaping and the Effects on Teens

January 28, 2019

Katherine Spangenberg, MDBy Katherine Spangenberg, MD, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics

The rise in popularity of e-cigarettes usage in 2018 among teens and pre-teens has reached staggering numbers.

E-cigarette usage increased by 78 percent in high school students and 47 percent in middle school students from 2017 to 2018, according to a national survey conducted by the CDC. This increase amounts to over 3.5 million middle and high school students reporting they have "vaped" or used e-cigarettes in 2018.

The rise in popularity brings up the question, are these e-cigarettes any safer than traditional cigarettes? Vaping (using e-cigarettes) remains a health concern within the medical community and society at large, particularly for the developing brain of a young user.

E-cigarettes are handheld battery operated devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol. The user inhales this aerosol, or vapor. Typically the liquid contains nicotine, flavorings and a solution, which may or may not contain chemicals like propylene glycol (antifreeze), diethylene glycol, nitrosamines and other carcinogens. Juul is a brand of e-cigarette that has become very popular, particularly with young people. 

E-cigarettes are not safer than cigarettes.

Although e-cigarettes may not be as harmful to one's health as cigarette smoking, there are many health concerns related to their use. They have not been scientifically proven as healthier or safer, and the U.S. surgeon general has not approved them for use in smoking cessation. Recommended resources to help patients quit smoking include 800-QUIT NOW and

Health impacts of e-cigarettes, especially for teens and pre-teens

Vaping is especially damaging to the young user. Nicotine has neurotoxic effects on the developing brain, which has not fully matured in early adolescence and can be negatively impacted by nicotine. Learning, attention and memory can be affected. Studies have shown e-cigarette use often precedes conventional tobacco use. Additionally, nicotine can be a gateway for other drug abuse, particularly in young people. 

The e-cigarette solution can be toxic to children if absorbed or ingested. As little as half a teaspoon can be fatal to a toddler. If ingestion is suspected, call 911 or poison control at 800-222-1222. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, lethargy, shortness of breath, seizures and death.

Overall, e-cigarettes may be less harmful than traditional cigarettes but there is still much unknown for both the user and those exposed to second hand vapor and dust. At this time, avoidance of all tobacco products is a patient's best health action.

Katherine Spangenberg, MD, is a general pediatrician and practices general internal medicine at Loyola Medicine.

Dr. Spangenberg earned her medical degree at Wayne State University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at William Beaumont Hospital.

You can book an appointment with Dr. Spangenberg today! Click here to schedule your appointment online