Initially designed as tools to help adults quit smoking, vaping has now become an activity that 13 percent of juniors at Los Altos students partake in, mostly in faith that this is a much safer alternative to smoking regular cigarettes. But cutting through all the unique flavors and smoke-blowing skills, is vaping actually as safe as many teenagers claim it is?
While there are reasons why some, especially teenagers, may believe vaping is healthier than the alternative, the simple answer seems to be that it’s be too soon to tell.
According to Palo Alto Medical Foundation physician Sarah Robinson, it often takes medical officials a minimum of 20 years to be certain if an ingredient or chemical is carcinogenic. Vapes only came into popularity a few years ago and thus have not received the testing necessary to establish their safety.
From the surface, it appears as though vaping has few, if any, health effects compared to smoking a cigarette — this is one of the main reason teenagers are attracted to this new drug.
“Although it may seem like underage vaping and smoking is becoming bigger than ever, cigarette use amongst minors has gone down — a fact I would attribute to vaping going up,” an anonymous Los Altos student said. “Although there is nicotine in vapes and that is addictive, many of the harmful, even more addictive substances such as tar are missing from vapes.”
Once a cigarette is lit, the smoke it creates contains over 7,000 chemicals, many of which contain carcinogenic properties. Vape pens have significantly fewer carcinogenic chemicals used in them, making it safer for the person vaping as well as the those inhaling the smoke around them.
Unlike a cigarette, which has a specific amount of nicotine in each package, vape pens give the user the opportunity to choose the amount of nicotine they are smoking. In fact, a vape pen user can choose to smoke only flavorings without any nicotine.
Still, vape companies claim their audience is smokers looking to quit in order to drive their campaign of responsible drug use, their advertisements often speak to a different target: teenagers. For example, the JUUL pen, a recently released vaping device that has had widespread use among teens, is advertised with bold, flashy colors, showing young people vaping. New flavors like “cotton candy” and “fruit hoos” come out often to attract youth into buying devices. Young people who may never have used a cigarette are now convinced to vape due to their perceived safety.
Moreover, propylene glycol, one of the main ingredients in vape pens, has already been proven to have carcinogenic properties. Medical officials are also concerned that the flavorings found in vape pens can have harmful effects on the body.
The pods containing the nicotine smoked or inhaled are often not well-regulated. Last July, the FDA delayed regulations on e-cigarettes to increase their presence on the market, reasoning that they are the better alternative to cigarettes. In fact, there have been traces of nicotine found in many pods that claim to be “nicotine free.” This lack of regulations can lead to faster rates of addiction. And as smokers become more and more experienced, they are able to inhale a greater amount of harmful substances.
“Studies have suggested that drug use starts with legal drugs and proceeds to illicit drugs,” Robinson said. “And the younger someone starts using drugs, the higher the likelihood of them becoming addicted later in life.”