Jaber: The dangers of ‘vaping,’ e-cigarettes akin to those already understood

Our country has made great strides in reducing the use of cigarettes and educating Americans on the dangers of smoking.

Dr. Wissam Jaber

The medical community has made it a priority to research the impact of cigarettes and encourage smoking cessation to reduce the incidence of lung cancer, aero-digestive cancers and other smoking-related disease.
Now comes the rising popularity of e-cigarettes or vaping. We are continuing to learn more about health risks associated with vaping. It is by no means the “healthy alternative” that marketing campaigns portray.

Recently, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb declared, “We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger,” in addition to ordering manufacturers to prove they can keep the products away from minors.

Further, last week, in a landmark development, the FDA announced it will impose new restrictions on the sales of flavored e-cigarettes, limiting them to closed-off areas in stores that are not accessible to children. These are important, laudable steps toward reducing the use of e-cigarettes among minors.

As we commemorate Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, it’s important to understand the prevalence of e-cigarette use and why action must be taken to reduce its growth. Between 2011 and 2015, the use of e-cigarettes among high school students jumped by an astonishing 900 percent.

Estimates claim as many as two million U.S. high school students have vaped, and that number is only growing. Promoted as a “cooler,” safer way to smoke by young adults, magazines and influential blogs, vaping has established a firm culture among adolescents while avoiding regulation that would limit its use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found e-cigarettes to contain carcinogenic compounds similar to those found in cigarettes that contribute to lung and throat cancer. Other studies show that lead and other heavy metals are often inhaled while vaping, and even the popular flavors touted by users are shown to be dangerous; buttery-flavored diacetyl has been linked to serious lung disease.

Additionally, there is no long-term research that shows these products reduce the likelihood of smoking cigarettes. The FDA does not recommend vaping as a safe alternative, as it still causes harm to the lungs and can be addictive. The chemicals found in e-cigarettes are especially harmful to pregnant women and adolescents, which can lead to long-term, harmful side effects.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America, one of my priorities is educating the public about the threat of lung, throat and other cancers tied to smoking. While they may not have the reputation that cigarettes have, it is clear that e-cigarettes and vaping present their own health hazard.

It’s critically important that parents and mentors of young people have open, honest conversations with them. Here are a few key points to convey:

  • Vaping is not “cool” and it’s not a healthy substitute for cigarettes. It harms the lungs, which could lead to long-term damage.
  • The chemicals in e-cigarettes can lead to side effects that may impact adults who smoked e-cigarettes as teens.
  • Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive and can lead to cancer.

The next step in our fight for a healthier America must be a reasonable, constructive policy that limits the use of e-cigarettes among adolescents and a commitment to further research on the long-term effects of these products.

Editor’s note: Dr. Jaber is director of interventional pulmonary medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America Phoenix.

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