Vaping, the addiction of a new generation of teenagers?

Our kids have the tendency of following each other. They want to try it all. Authorities have fought to legalize Marijuana and I am sure that many would have been happier to see more potent drugs added to the list and available on the market for personal use. Vaping came as a way of being cool and many took the opportunity to mix the ingredients with more potent drugs. Cigarette smoking was found for years to be responsible for initiating cancerous lesions in the lungs and the government including the CDC have permitted for so long its use in public areas. Smoking a cigarette or a cigar was a sign of being a “macho man”. High school kids and College kids have changed their way and have learned from this new trend in playing the game by trading cigarettes and cigars to e-cigarettes and Vaporizers.

Vaping has become very popular among the young men and women in high schools, colleges and universities. I am not too sure why so many have chosen this path while drinking and taking more potent drugs have also become the norm in their social gatherings. The first time, I saw the apparatus allowing the young to “vape”, I was surprised to a point that I confronted the parents to ask them why they were giving authorization to their kids to smoke drugs. I was told that there was no drug involved in the mechanism. I accepted the answer and remembered that same kid being transported to the emergency a month later for what I understood was an overdose experience. In my mind, I did not see the difference and I swallowed my pride. I accepted the explanation of this parents justifying the incident and decided to look for other reasons. Soon, I realize that the use of a Vaping apparatus at home as a social activity among the visiting kids, was a norm. What a party! I told myself.

I remained ignorant but looked for answers to satisfy my curiosity. I learned that the act of inhaling or exhaling, was releasing an aerosol, often referred to “Vapor”, the same way it is produced by the e-cigarette or similar device. I was told that they were using the term simply because the e-cigarettes did not produce tobacco smoke but rather an aerosol often mistaken for fine particles of water vapor. Those particles were found to contain different amount of toxic chemicals linked to cancer in the pulmonary tree and toxic to the heart.

Vaping has grown in popularity especially after the introduction of the e-cigarettes in the United States (2007). One of the prime selling point is that the use of e-cigarettes has helped smokers wean themselves of traditional cigarettes. Many devices are available to “vape” like e-cigarettes, or vape pens, and more sophisticated advanced personal vaporizers known as “Mods”. The e-cigarette reminds a regular cigarette while the vape pens look like large fountain pens which can be customized for the user. In general, a vaping device consists in a mouthpiece, a container for the “e-liquid” or “e-juice” and a heating component, powered by a battery able to heat the component to degrade it into an aerosol ready to be inhaled at will.

The “e-liquid” contains a propylene glycol or a vegetable glycerin-based liquid mixed with a Nicotine flavoring material and other chemicals or metallic elements, but not tobacco. Many have also used the vaporizing cannabinoids “Vape THC” responsible for most of the marijuana mind-altering effects, or even drugs like flakka to replace the nicotine. A new product is presently on the market. It is called the “JUUL” This device looks like a USB computer drive, easy to hide in a pocket but used in Vaping. This is also the reason why it is so popular among middle and high school students. It is presented under different shades. Every JUUL contains a high dose of nicotine loaded in cartridges with a choice of flavors like crème brulee, mango, strawberry cheese cake, cucumber by example and is sold only to customers older than 18. It is estimated that about 11.5 billion in sale, are generated with the market of vaping products around the world.

Certainly, Vaping is free of smoke but is not risk free. The nation’s Drug and Food Administration announced in November 2008, plans to limit sales of most types of flavored e-cigarettes to vaping stores. It became so popular among middle-schoolers, high schoolers and college kids that the age of 21 was proposed for the purchase of any vaping product. Inversely, Countries like Brazil, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Turkey banned their sales. Many deaths, at least 6, have been recorded through the United States of America because of a mysterious disease involving the lungs: 380 confirmed cases in 36 states and the US Virgin Islands, were cited, in a recent report and many more have visited the emergency rooms. It is not yet clear of what exactly is causing the illnesses affecting mostly young men who are vaporizing cannabinoids like THC. The culprit may be some chemicals like vitamin E acetate used illegally in vaporizers. This substance has been found in all cannabis containing vapes. The Trump administration has cautioned about the practice of vaping under all forms and menace to place a ban over all flavored e-cigarettes in the USA, including mint and menthol flavors, until a plausible explanation can be given to this epidemic of youth e-cigarettes. Unfortunately, the users are also aware of the dangers linked to inhaling vapors.

Vaping added to a high consummation of Alcohol or mix to different potent drugs can bring “enjoyment” to the users especially with the legalization of Marijuana in so many states. It has also become a hobby very popular among drug users. A quick acting component can easily be added in a fairly discrete way for medication or pleasure. Although this form of delivery of the substance is considered safer than smoking, Vaping is short for Vaporization commonly used as a way of delivering cannabis. The user inhales the vapors of cannabis generated from the heating of the active compounds at low temperatures. Contrarily to smoking cannabis, there is no combustion or burning at these low

temperatures (200 degrees), so no smoke is generated. Researchers have quickly concluded recently that this form of delivery was safer because, there was no creation of carcinogen like benzene, toluene and naphthalene associated to its combustion. This is why vaping is preferred over smoking with less side effects or risks to the respiratory system. Smoke in the contrary is known to cause allergies and irritation to the lungs producing cough and phlegm. In 2000, at the University of McMaster in Hamilton, Vethanayagam a pulmonologist at the University of Alberta with his colleagues, reported a woman who had “lipoid pneumonia” after in her practice of Vaping.

To vape the cannabis, you need a vaporizer which can fit a desktop, or be portable or handheld with a power source (battery or plug), a heating element (heater or atomizer), a chamber to pack the cannabis flower or any concentrate, a button to activate the heat and finally a mouth piece to inhale the vapor through. Popular vaping products have reached the market under the form of dry flower vapes, Pax 3 (dry herb) sold internationally, Absolute Xtracts in California, Avilas in Washington, O pen in Colorado etc. They can be purchased on line or at local smoke shops. Prices range between 25 to 300 dollars.

We do know that any tobacco product including e-cigarettes are unsafe to youth. Nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain, the cilia in the lungs that clear the mucus and is certainly a powerful additive. A chunk of nicotine in a pod may be the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes, rendering the youth easily addicted. People suffering with lungs or throat discomfort, may find vaping more accommodating than smoking to avoid more irritation. It is also easier to dose the cannabis with the specific vape pens. Vaping is not without dangers especially when using cannabis through a deficient vaporizer, then the additive become harmful to the users once the substance is heated. The common additive is propylene glycol which is known to induce asthma and allergic reactions in producing higher levels of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde than propylene glycol. This is why it has been suggested to use low temperatures when vaping, in order to avoid these carcinogenic by-products. No matter what company manufactures the vaporizers, you will inhale hot aerosol ultrafine particles of aldehyde, diacetyl etc.  Side effects like dizziness, hypotension, tachycardia, loss of memory or concentration as well as anxiety can surface. This can become habit-forming for people using THC. They are not recommended for people suffering from mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. nor they should be used in people ingesting alcohol and other drugs

To conclude, it may appear that Vaping brings with it use, advantages that a regular smoker looks for, but there is no long term data to conclude that it is a safer choice to lighting up a cigarette.  Facts appear to be conclusive that e-cigarettes aerosol can damage the pulmonary tree the same way Nicotine does. Some evidence suggests also that the by-products can harm the brain as well as the heart.  I wish to all young men involved in this hobby, to try to find time to get familiar with the complications of such Vaping activities and weight the consequences to avoid being part of the statistics.

Maxime Coles MD


FDA Webpage on e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes regulation in United States

Dangers of Vaping (Bloomberg Editorial)

Timeline of the spate of vape-related illness (September 2019)

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