According to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, adolescents who use electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are 30% more likely to have respiratory problems.
E-cigarettes are increasingly being used as a healthier option than traditional cigarettes. The electronic devices emit a nicotine vapor instead of lung-damaging smoke. They also have far less dangerous chemicals than traditional cigarettes. It is for these reasons that many people believe they are a healthier alternative.
However, medical professionals point to a lack of research on the health effects of e-cigarettes. While they do contain less dangerous chemicals, there is controversy in the medical community over how dangerous the devices could be.
Now, study findings indicate that e-cigarettes can cause many of the same breathing problems as smoking.
Researchers studied over 45,000 students in Hong Kong. The average age of each student was 15. Overall, 19% of the general student population reported having breathing problems, such as coughing and excessive phlegm.
However, students who had used e-cigarettes in the last thirty days were found to be 30% more likely to suffer from breathing problems. That risk was even greater for students who had used either a cigarette or e-cigarette at any time in the past, with a 40% increased risk.
This study marks the first research on the impact of e-cigarettes on adolescents. The results suggest that e-cigarettes may be particularly damaging for children and teenagers.
The study also found that there was an even greater risk for e-cigarette users who had never smoked regular cigarettes. These students were twice as likely to have respiratory problems as the students who didn’t use the devices.
“E-cigarettes are certainly not harmless and serious health problems of long-term use will probably emerge with time,” said Dr. Daniel Ho, co-author of the study.
While e-cigarettes have fewer chemicals than traditional cigarettes, they still contain propylene glycol, flavoring chemicals, volatile organic compounds, and other toxicants that can irritate and damage the lungs.
The researchers highlight that e-cigarettes could be dangerous for children more so than adults, as children “are particularly vulnerable to respiratory pollutants.”
Nicotine has also been found to effect a child’s brain development. While e-cigarettes may still be a safer choice for people trying to quit smoking, Dr. Ho believes that the potential negative effects on children could negate these gains.
“While supporters are optimistic about the potential for harm reduction in the minority of established cigarette smokers, which convincing evidence is lacking, this does not seem to justify the potential harm of re-normalizing cigarette smoking, delaying smoking cessation, and escalating to real cigarette smoking, especially among the majority non-smoking young people,” Dr. Ho said.
As e-cigarettes do not have the same stigma as traditional cigarettes, the researchers fear that e-cigarette use could become normalized, which could lead to more children using them.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Griffin, R. M., “E-Cigarettes 101,” WebMD web site, http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/features/electronic-cigarettes.
Seaman, A. M., “Adolescent e-cigarette use tied to breathing problems,” Reuters web site, November 9, 2015; http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/09/us-health-ecigarettes-adolescents-breath-idUSKCN0SY22Y20151109#e6k14schV3rkTf0s.97.