Scientists Are Finally Starting to Understand the Real Dangers of Vaping


It’s hard to drive or walk by a high school without noticing kids puffing out plumes of smoke. It’s hard, even in places that have banned cigarettes, to make it through a meal or a movie without a fruity-smelling cloud emanating from somewhere in the room.


And it’s very hard to convince anyone who loves vaping (or is addicted) that they should be more cautious with a technology that’s too new to have been thoroughly studied by health professionals in the field.

Smoking during the teen years is especially harmful to a still-growing brain – studies have previously shown that if a person can hold off smoking until they’re in their 20s, the chances of getting addicted reduce drastically. And while fewer teens than ever are trying traditional cigarettes, a disturbingly high – and growing – number of kids are vaping.


“Nicotine mimics the chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other and causes the brain to reconfigure itself. The nicotine molecule is shaped a lot like acetylcholine, which the nervous system uses to communicate, so it fakes out and overstimulates the nervous system. This rewiring of the brain is bad for adults, but it’s especially bad for young people because until around age 26, the brain is still developing. When you start messing up normal communication between nerves as the system is still being built, the adaptations are a lot more permanent.”

21% of high schoolers report using e-cigarettes. In 2011, that number was only 1.5%.

4.9% of middle schoolers are vaping, up from just .6% in 2011.


So, the problem is not only growing at an alarming rate, but levels of kids who are addicted to nicotine are reaching levels that should concern everyone, says Dr. Stanton Glantz.

“Our understanding of e-cigarettes is still accumulating, but at this point, we are pretty confident that e-cigarettes are at least two-thirds to three-fourths as bad as cigarettes. And remember, cigarettes are pretty horrible. Vaping is like, instead of jumping out the 40th story of a building, you’re jumping out of the 30th story.”

We’re starting to see evidence of this showing up in the news from around the country, too.

This summer, 8 Wisconsin teens were hospitalized with serious lung damage – some of whom found themselves on ventilators in the ICU – due to their vaping habits. A few weeks later, 4 Minnesota kids spent weeks in the hospital battling vaping-related lung troubles, after which the state’s public health department issued an official warning against the use of e-cigs.


Then, an 18-year-old Florida student’s lung collapsed after regular JUUL use, and the FDA reports that they’ve received 127 reports of seizures and other neurological symptoms also related to vaping over the past 10 years. And there has now officially been a death caused by lung illness linked to vaping.

None of these types of issues were seen with traditional cigarettes – so what’s different about vaporized nicotine?

Cigarettes contain 69 known carcinogens, but the juice needed to get a nicotine buzz from an e-cig isn’t harmless – it also contains an assortment of chemicals that go straight into your lungs (and then into the air) that scientists are starting to realize can be as harmful (if not more).


The fact that kids are getting “nic sick” – experiencing nausea, headaches, lightheadedness, and vomiting, none of which was a side effect of traditional cigarettes – seems to point to the fact that the nicotine in e-cigs is ultra concentrated.

Stantz explains how and why these findings are possible – and super concerning.

“Free-base nicotine, which you get in a cigarette and an older-generation e-cigarette, is very alkaline and hard to inhale, so it triggers a gag reflex, which limits the amount of nicotine per puff. Juul transitioned to nicotine salt and added some acid to the e-liquid to make it less alkaline, as well as adding flavors. When you put all that together, it is much easier to inhale, so Juul devices deliver a much higher dose per puff.”

Setting aside the increased nicotine content there are more reasons that, even though they contain fewer known carcinogens than regular cigs, the e-cig vapor is just as dangerous.

“It consists of ultrafine particles that are about 100 times smaller than a human hair. These particles include acrolein and formaldehyde, as well as diacetyl, cinnamaldehyde, and other flavorants that are fine to eat but not to inhale as fine particles.”

In fact, Harvard researchers have discovered that diacetyl and its chemical cousin 2,3-pentanedione – found in 90 percent of e-cigarettes tested – do damage to the cilia lining the lungs and airways, which increases the risks of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


“E-cigarettes also include heavy metals like lead and silica. Their wicks often have silica, and when they wear out, you can get little particles of silica in the lungs, which is very harmful. Additionally, e-cigarettes disable normal functioning of macrophages, cells within the lungs that gobble up bacteria and other infectious agents we breathe in. When you disable them, you are more prone to infections.”

Like smoking old-school cigarettes, vaping also puts people at risk for cardiovascular issues, like heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

So, even though Glantz estimated that e-cigs are around 75% as harmful as smoking regular cigs, even he doesn’t think that number will stay the same as more research surfaces.

“With the data we should have about 3 or 4 years from now, I think we’ll find that e-cigarettes are equally as bad or worse in terms of overall health risks.”

Just say no, y’all, and if your kids are vaping or think it’s cool, please step in. It’s not harmless, and as with everything this big, bad world throws at your teen, it’s your job to help them mitigate as many risks as possible.

And vaping is a big one.