Inhaling fumes from electronic cigarettes may be less dangerous than smoking tobacco, but they still carry plenty of risk. Three people from the Montrose County School District teamed up to make that point at a recent meeting of The Forum at Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli, Montrose.
Social Worker Jim Jackett, LCSW, estimated that about 25% of kids he’s talked to knew that “vaping” (inhaling flavored aerosols from an e-cigarette) was a bad idea.
So what exactly is an “e-cigarette”, anyway? While there is a variety of brands and flavors, they all have certain basic components, Jackett explained. “You’ve got a battery, an atomizer coil, and some absorbent material, usually cotton, that holds what’s called the e-juice; the e-juice contains the nicotine and other chemical components.” The battery powers the atomizer, which heats the e-juice, turning it into an aerosol. “It’s not a vapor; I really dislike the fact that people calls these ‘vape pens’ because there is no vapor in there, just an aerosol.”
Each e-cigarette is a disposable, single-use device. But, there are larger, re-fillable devices on the market, too, including some with rechargeable batteries.
They all have the same purpose. “It is to deliver nicotine into a human body,” Jackett explained.
Nicotine isn’t the only dangerous chemical in the e-juice; there are several others, including formaldehyde. You might remember formaldehyde, as a preservative, if you dissected frogs during your own school days, said Registered Nurse Jennifer Halbach, of the Montrose School District. “They don’t use it in schools any more because it made people sick. Yet here it still is, in the residue of these vape pens.” The same chemical is also used in traditional cigarettes, according to Halbach. “The point is to get the nicotine into the cells more easily.” Formaldehyde is also a known carcinogen, she said. At least one other e-juice chemical becomes “very toxic in the lungs when it’s aerosolized,” she explained. So anybody who thinks e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to tobacco cigarettes is dead wrong.
Halbach said that e-cigarettes and vape pens are not regulated for the levels of nicotine and other chemicals they deliver. But, they are being studied by scientists. Some of the manufacturers have claimed that their products contain no nicotine, “But when they were studied, three out of four that said they did not have nicotine actually did,” the nurse revealed. She also reported that increasing numbers of little kids are mistaking the contents for candy, and accidentally poisoning themselves. “It only takes three milligrams of nicotine to kill a child,” she warned.
Social worker Mary Boyers, LCSW, told the audience that the marketing campaigns are targeting teens, in her opinion. “This is not geared towards an adult.
This is very much an appeal to young people to be cool, to be sneaky.
Some of our students have said that they are vaping in class. How?,” she asked. “That’s part of the coolness, that’s part of the appeal.” It’s also part of the health threat, she said. “What they shared with us is that in class they do something called ‘ghosting’, where they re-inhale that toxic aerosol, and increase exposure to those toxic chemicals.”
Boyers believes that effective advertising campaigns have fooled people into believing that e-cigarettes are harmless. “Most people don’t realize at all how toxic they are, and that’s by design. It’s very deliberate.” She reported that there have been a lot of ads, articles, and videos that have portrayed vaping as cool, fun, and healthy.
Boyers said that health problems connected to vaping include nicotine addiction, heart issues, anxiety, mood disorders, and insomnia.
It’s illegal to sell these things to anyone younger than 18. But kids have no trouble getting hold of them. Quite a few of the devices have been confiscated at our local high schools. In fact, a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that the rate of vaping amongst Colorado’s middle and high school kids is twice the national average.
You can get more details from the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado survey at healthykidscolo.org.