The tobacco product landscape continues to evolve to include smoked, smokeless, and electronic products, such as e-cigarettes
. E-cigarettes, which entered the U.S. marketplace around 2007, are designed to deliver nicotine, flavorings, and other additives via an inhaled aerosol. They are known by many different names, including “e-cigs,” “ehookahs,” “mods,” and “vape pens.”
In addition to nicotine—the addictive drug in regular cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products—the aerosol that users inhale and exhale from e-cigarettes can potentially expose both themselves and bystanders to other harmful substances, including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled into the lungs. There also have been reports of e-cigarette explosions and fires in the oral cavity
For adults, e-cigarettes may have the potential to reduce health risks for current smokers if they completely transition from cigarettes to e-cigarettes; however, most adults who vape also smoke cigarettes. According to a 2018 National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report
, there is moderate evidence that vaping increases the frequency and intensity of cigarette smoking in the future.
Youth Vaping “Epidemic”
Many e-cigarettes come in kid-friendly flavors, and a new type of e-cigarette
has become increasingly popular among young adults due to its minimal exhaled aerosol, reduced odor, and small size, making it easy to conceal. Many of these products look like a USB flash drive, with a typical cartridge, or “pod,” containing as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.
The U.S. Surgeon General
called the recent surge in youth vaping an “epidemic” and issued an advisory
emphasizing the importance of protecting children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and associated health risks.
Any e-cigarette use among young people is unsafe, even if they do not transition to cigarette smoking. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can harm the developing brain—which continues to develop until around age 25. Nicotine also impacts adolescents’ learning, memory, and attention, and it can increase their risk for future addiction to other drugs.
Almost half of Massachusetts high school students reported having vaped at least once, according to the 2015 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey
. In 2018, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students nationwide said they regularly use e-cigarettes, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. From 2017 to 2018, the number of high schoolers who reported vaping increased 78%.