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Vaping Linked to Breathing Problems: What We’re Learning About the Risks

According to a recent NBC News report, nearly two dozen people have been recently hospitalized in the Midwest due to breathing difficulties from vaping. But the question remains: why is this happening?

It’s rare to find a group of teenagers or young adults who aren’t familiar with—or haven’t tried—vaping. As the trend has grown, it’s become common to find vape shops in strip malls and to see teenagers with vape pens of their own, boasting flavors like blueberry cheesecake and frosted sugar cookie.

But how is vaping, or the use of “e-cigarettes” affecting people? As the trend surges in popularity, many reports have emerged, warning of the dangers stemming from e-cigarette use.

What Are E-Cigarettes?

Often marketed as a “healthier” alternative to traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, also known as vapes, are battery-operated devices that are used to inhale an aerosol, typically containing nicotine. The aerosol is often flavored, with “vape juice” flavors ranging from sweet to sour to downright bizarre.

E-cigarettes as they are known today were invented around 2003, and gained popularity as they were marketed as a solution for smoking cessation. In 2008, the World Health Organization issued a press release stating that e-cigarettes were not, in fact, a legitimate solution for smoking cessation, yet usage of e-cigarettes continued to increase.

For those that used e-cigarettes to quit traditional cigarette smoking, the e-cigarettes were not found to be more effective than traditional smoking cessation aids like nicotine gums or patches.

While e-cigarettes may potentially pose less risk than traditional cigarettes, they are in most cases associated with some level of nicotine consumption. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that is both a sedative and a stimulant. The usage of nicotine products will also cause a release of dopamine in the brain, the temporarily pleasing effects of which can lead to a dependence on the substance.

What Happens to the Body and Brain When Vaping?

While the long and short-term effects of cigarette smoking are well-known, the same effects of vaping have been studied to a lesser degree. Whether it’s a teen who has never used traditional cigarettes, or an older adult who is using e-cigarettes as a replacement, the risks have begun to emerge from stories of medical facilities and research labs across the country.

Published in the medical journal Radiology, a study recently concluded that vaping temporarily impacts blood vessel function in otherwise healthy people. While this information may seem significant, it is important to note that long-term effects of altered blood vessel function can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease.

Yet another study found that flavored e-cigs can damage cardiovascular cells.

With the CDC reporting that over 9 million Americans are now vaping, this development is particularly troubling. Youth is especially affected by the trend, with 3.6 million middle and high school students reported having used an e-cigarette in 2018.

In the reports emerging from the Midwest and other states, the CDC is now investigating the cause of lung disease that has been linked to vaping. Experts state that making the connection between lung disease and vaping will be difficult to track over time, because it is a problem that has not typically been seen before.

In Wisconsin specifically, the Department of Health reported that while all of the patients in question had reported vaping, it was unclear exactly which products they had used, stating that “[They] could include a number of substances, including nicotine, THC, synthetic cannabinoids, or a combination of these.”

Across these different cases, patients reported shortness of breath, fever, cough, and chest pain, among other symptoms.

Taking Precautions

As more data emerges on the safety and risks of e-cigarettes, it is crucial to understand that vaping is not a “safe” alternative to cigarettes. While vaping may expose you to a smaller number of harmful chemicals, it still exposes you to chemicals that we are discovering to be hazardous to public health.

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