E-cigarettes are the new trend among adolescents, but also a possible cure for those with cigarette addiction. Should we be promoting a product that will affect our future generations for the sake of reducing cigarette prevalence among long-time addicted smokers?
According to the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights organization, e-cigarette use is increasing among high school students; from 2011 to 2015, usage increased by about 900 percent. This is alarming to many parents because their child in middle school (aged somewhere between 11-14) should not have access to a gateway substance that is possibly life-threatening. E-cigarette usage could not only negatively affect the child’s health, but it will also impact the health of others around them resulting in a major public health issue. E-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals including nicotine, diacetyl and formaldehyde, and users expose nonusers to secondhand aerosol.
Potential results of vaping include health threats such as nicotine poisoning or cancer caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. According to the National Cancer Institute, the most fatal cancer in the United States is lung cancer. Lung cancer typically develops as a result of excessive, long-term smoking. Nicotine is specifically problematic because it is highly addictive to youth and can disrupt a child’s developing brain.
However, with education and proper care, many health issues can be avoided. For instance, a chemical produced in some brands of e-cigarettes is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is utilized in antifreeze and building material. However, the one chemical that really draws customers in is diacetyl. Diacetyl is a chemical used when making the various flavors for the e-cigarettes. This chemical is added to popcorn, so it is fine to ingest; however, when it comes to inhalation, it can be rather unsafe. A typical result of diacetyl inhalation is lung disease.
Negative health results are not only prevalent among users, but nonusers as well. Users of e-cigarettes expose nonusers to secondhand aerosol. E-cigarette aerosol potentially contains heavy metals, acrolein and ultrafine particulates. Acrolein is a cancer-causing agent in the lungs when it is inhaled. This becomes a public health concern when it affects not just one person, but those around them as well. Unless there are strict guidelines on no-smoking or “vaping” zones, nonusers are at risk of inhaling the unhealthy aerosol. For example, if a server works daily in the outdoor dining section of a restaurant that allows smoking, they are a victim of secondhand aerosol inhalation. Consequently, their chances for developing a lung disease or cancer have now increased.
Servers are not the only victims of negative health effects caused by e-cigarettes — unborn children are affected, too. As a means of cigarette substitution, pregnant women are even using this disease-inflicting device. E-cigarettes still have nicotine in them. Since nicotine is toxic, it can impair the child’s developing brain in the womb. Due to a lack of education and continuous developing research on this relatively new and hyped product, many women, along with their children, can suffer short-and-long-term health disparities.
Though e-cigarettes pose less of a risk to public health than cigarettes, they still pose some risk. Therefore, we should not continue to promote a product that causes harm. They include dangerous chemicals, expose nonusers to secondhand aerosol and provide pregnant women a dangerous alternative to cigarettes. Not to mention, e-cigarettes could be the possible outlet, or gateway, to cigarette addiction. The public should be educated on the detrimental effects of e-cigarettes, support increased restrictions on e-cigarettes and make e-cigarettes less appealing to children.
Marina Sourial is a fourth-year public health policy major. She can be reached at email@example.com.