Memorial Regional Health: E-cigarettes a pathway to addiction — Teen use of e-cigarettes is rising, along with risks for long-term health consequences
- Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
- Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States. This is nearly one in five deaths.
- Smoking causes more deaths each year than the following causes combined: human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents.
- More than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States.
- Smoking causes about 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths.
- More women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer.
- Smoking causes about 80 percent of all deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
- Cigarette smoking increases risk for death from all causes in men and women.
- The risk of dying from cigarette smoking has increased through the last 50 years in the U.S.
- E-cigarette aerosol is not harmless. It can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including nicotine, heavy metals like lead, volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing agents.
- Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine exposure can also harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Colorado teens use e-cigarettes more than teens in at least 37 other states.
The study found that Colorado teens use electronic vapor cigarettes twice as often as the national average, according to a Colorado Public Radio report. The data is especially concerning. because e-cigarette use among youth — who use e-cigarettes at higher rates than adults do — have a higher risk of transitioning to smoking conventional cigarettes, according to congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The report goes on to say that, while there’s some evidence e-cigarettes can help smokers quit combustible cigarettes, people who do not already smoke should not try e-cigarettes.
Studies show that “young adults who use e-cigarettes are more than four times as likely to begin smoking cigarettes within 18 months, compared with their peers who do not vape,” according to the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit organization that promotes tobacco-free lives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women or adults who do not currently use tobacco products. Basically, the only people who should ever try e-cigarettes are people who already smoke. For these folks, e-cigarettes are not as bad as regular ones, but that doesn’t make them good.
“If you’ve never smoked or used other tobacco products or e-cigarettes, don’t start,” the CDC says.
Why people, especially youth, shouldn’t smoke
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, the highly addictive chemical found in tobacco that leads to all kinds of increased health risks for many kinds of cancer, COPD, heart disease and other problems.
“Compared with older adults, the brain of youth and young adults is more vulnerable to the negative consequences of nicotine exposure. The effects include addiction, priming for use of other addictive substances, reduced impulse control, deficits in attention and cognition and mood disorders,” said then-U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy in a 2016 report about e-cigarette use among youth. “Although we continue to learn more about e-cigarettes with each passing day, we currently know enough to take action to protect our nation’s young people from being harmed by these products. Previous reports of the surgeon general have established that nearly all habitual tobacco use begins during youth and young adulthood.”
Because the human brain is developing until about age 25, using substances at a young age can have lifelong consequences.
“Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections — or synapses — are built between brain cells,” according to the U.S. surgeon general. “Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Because addiction is a form of learning, adolescents can get addicted more easily than adults. The nicotine in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products can also prime the adolescent brain for addiction to other drugs, such as cocaine.”
The popularity of e-cigarettes is a concerning trend. Any substance that can affect the developmental stages of the human brain should be avoided.
The findings from the 2016 surgeon general report reinforce the need to support evidence-based programs to prevent youth and young adults from using tobacco in any form, including e-cigarettes, said Sylvia Burwell, then-secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The health and wellbeing of our nation’s young people depend on it,” she said.
When it opens later this year, the Memorial Regional Health medical office building will recognize supporters with a hand-forged iron tree of life.