Vaping: Not a safe alternative to smoking

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If you have had a fifth grader at home in the last 15 years, chances are that she or he took part in the interactive tobacco education program Tar Wars.

This program, developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians, has been delivered annually to fifth graders in the Mission Valley, in an effort to curb the initiation of tobacco use in our community’s youth.

And it has been effective.

While adult rates of tobacco use in Lake County mirror those nationally (about 19% according to the 2018 Lake County Community Health Needs Assessment), the incidence of traditional cigarette use among teens has decreased.

However, there has been an alarming increase in the number of youth using vaping devices, such as e-cigarettes or pod devices, such as JUUL.

In 2015, the U.S. Surgeon General reported a 900% increase in e-cigarette use among U.S. high school students, many of whom had never smoked a cigarette.

Often seen as a healthier alternative for delivering nicotine, “vaping” is the act of breathing in the aerosol form (vapor) of a substance.

It works in the same way your average household humidifier works. Forcing air through a liquid substance results in very small drops of a substance that can be inhaled and absorbed through the lungs.

Nothing is being burned, so there are no cancer-causing substances and it’s safe, right?

Wrong.

The chemicals in e-cigarettes are not any safer than any other kind of cigarette and may be more harmful because they contain tiny fat particles which damage the sensitive lining of the lung.

Most e-cigarette users are in search of nicotine, a highly addictive substance that causes constriction of blood vessels (and high blood pressure) and increases in adrenaline, your “fight-or-flight” hormone.

Both of these scenarios increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

To make matters worse, e-cigarettes often contain much higher concentrations of nicotine than traditional tobacco, multiplying the harmful effects in a single puff.

Furthermore, the delivery device itself is dangerous.

In order to create a vapor to inhale, the device requires a power source, generally a lithium ion battery.

If the device malfunctions and explodes, it can cause catastrophic damage to a user’s face or hands.

Because these devices do not always look like cigarettes, it makes it difficult to recognize that they are being used and makes them popular among teens.

With widespread use, the dangers of vaping are getting more attention.

The Centers for Disease Control recently linked 530 cases of severe lung damage and 127 cases of unexplained seizures to e-cigarette use nationwide.

Montana has seen its first (but probably not last) vaping related lung injury case.

Across the country, there have been seven deaths as a result of e-cigarette use.

It is time to take our tobacco message out of the fifth grade and into our every day conversations.

E-cigarettes are not a healthier, cheaper, cooler alternative to smoking.

It is a dangerous gamble that can result in severe harm to our community’s youth.

For more information on the dangers of e-cigarette use, visit https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/mtupp.

- Dr. Cara Harrop is a physician and owner of PureHealth DPC in Polson.

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