Smoking kills about 480,000 Americans every year. It’s a major factor in lung cancer, heart disease, and respiratory infections. Fortunately, the rate of smoking in the US has dropped significantly over the past 50 years and fewer people than ever are smoking. This is especially true of young people. However, there is now a new concern–vaping. The FDA has recently said that vaping has become an epidemic in the US, and that Juul and other makers of e-cigarettes specifically target young people. According to the CDC, more than two million middle school and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2017. Are e-cigarettes something to be concerned about? Without a doubt, e-cigarettes are less dangerous than tobacco. On top of the many dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes, the act of breathing in smoke is harmful in itself. Combustion adds heat and waste products such as carbon monoxide to an already long list of carcinogens found in cigarettes. E-cigarettes, by comparison, don’t rely on combustion. They use vapor from a liquid mix of nicotine, vegetable oil, and typically, some kind of scent. This vapor is much less toxic than cigarette smoke and e-cigarettes are often marketed as a cigarette replacement for people who want to quit smoking. It is a way to get nicotine without the foul smell and health hazards of smoking. Although e-cigarettes are certainly better than smoking, they aren’t exactly safe. Nicotine is especially dangerous for teens because their brains haven’t yet fully developed. Studies have found that teens who smoke are at higher risk of developing psychological disorders and cognitive impairment later in life. Smoking may alter the prefrontal cortex of the brain, leading to attention deficits. Teens also become addicted more quickly than adults and nicotine is perhaps the most addictive drug there is. Although e-cigarettes are often marketed as a step-down from from smoking, they may lead teens to start smoking when they otherwise might not have. Neither are e-cigarettes entirely safe for adults. First, nicotine, itself, may increase your risk of heart disease. It is a stimulant that can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, which can stiffen arteries over time. E-cigarettes also deliver formaldehyde, as well as chemicals called nitrosamines, both of which are known carcinogens. E-cigarette vapor may also contain lead, a neurotoxin that can cause headaches, mood disorders, joint and muscle pain, developmental delays in adolescents, and poor memory and concentration. Although people typically believe there is no second-hand smoke from e-cigarettes, at least one study has found that vaping makes air quality worse, leading to higher concentrations of nicotine, hydrocarbons, particulate matter, and aluminum, which may increase your risk of lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
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