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Is Vaping Safe?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 17, 2023

Table of Contents

Vaping is popular among people in various stages of recovery, but is vaping safe? It is often viewed as a safer way to satisfy cravings that would have been satisfied by using any number of substances. But is vaping safe? Since vaping is relatively new, the studies that do exist have somewhat limited data from which to draw upon. The vaping epidemic. Heard of it? It’s been all over the headline news. With the onslaught of Juuls, E-Cigarettes, nicotine pouches, and Vapes taking over big tobacco as a new trend within the last ten years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers of Disease and Control (CDC), and government officials are in a frenzy tacking this issue, now known as, “the vaping epidemic.” While we may think of the emerging epidemic as the cluster of headlines we see on the news related to illnesses, the multitude of issues within vaping and e-cigarette use goes far deeper than that.

Vaping Has Risen in Popularity At An Alarming Rate

As of this writing, the vaping epidemic has been reported to be directly responsible for the loss of 21 lives across 18 states. The CDC has reported more than vaping-related lung injuries in the United States and in the Virgin Islands. Doctors have struggled to identify the exact cause of the injuries, but what seems to be consistent is that most of these patients had a history of vaping products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. 80% of the victims were under 35 years old. For sure, there are growing concerns over lung injuries and an effort to raise awareness about youth-vaping rates. So much so, that many states are rushing to place restrictions on multiple products. As an example, Washington state Governor, Jay Inslee (D), directed state officials to impose an emergency ban on flavored vaping products – including nicotine products and THC products. In addition to Washington state, Rhode Island, Michigan, and New York have also banned most flavored vapes. Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker issued a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products. And, in the grocery-world, Kroger and Walmart have stated the would stop selling e-cigarettes. President Trump even called for the FDA to ban flavored e-cigarettes entirely. The FDA announced more limited age restrictions related to flavors last year, but the proposed ban is expected to go further. None of this is surprising because Obama outlawed flavored cigarettes almost ten years ago. The thought process then was that by banning flavoried ciagarettes, young people would not become smokers. Here again, we see an effort to stop young people from developing a habit that could be harmful.

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Time for regulation? Or is this just a knee-jerk reaction?

What is unclear is whether or not these actions are knee-jerk in nature, or do they represent the first steps in a move to more widespread restrictions? Some people believe separate problems associated with e-cigarettes and vaping are over-exaggerated. The sudden issue of lung injuries and deaths have arisen quite suddenly and all at the same time, relatively speaking. This has certainly sounded alarms and fostered confusion about what products are actually dangerous and who exactly is at risk.

Proponents of continued freedoms in the vaping product industry point to a recent case where state health officials said that black market marijuana vaping devices have been linked to most of the related cases. This is an important consideration, one that suggests that black market products were to blame.

Acting FDA commissioner Ned Sharpless said agency testing led the FDA to believe that people were mixing pure THC with other oils to dilute the product, effectively creating illegal vaping liquids. These liquids were not tested subsequentlty but this is of little consolation to the families of deceased loved ones. Further study of these deaths turned up an important clue: “A significant fraction of the THC products are contaminated with vitamin E acetate,” Sharpless said during a congressional hearing Sept. 25. The oil, generally used on skin, has “no business being in a pulmonary product,” Sharpless said. He believes vitamin E acetate was added as a cutting agent.

The most common brand that seems to causing the illness is a brand called “Dank Vapes.” Other brands identified by people with lung injury include TKO, Off White, Moon Rocks, and Chronic Carts. Industry experts said many THC products on the black market come from distributors who buy empty cartridges, fill them with THC mixtures, then purchase packaging with those brand labels.

Though a break in the research had come to fruition, Anne Schuchat, Deputy Director at the CDC, noted that they “don’t have the full data yet.”

Unfortunately, these incidents do nothing to quell the notion that more regulation is needed. In fact, the severity of these incidents suggests otherwise.

Is Vaping Safe for Teens?

Like most new fads, teens tend to be easily swayed. Not surprisingly, vaping amongst teens is rising and although the use of THC and nicotine is still highly restricted, these devices are commonly seen in middle and high schools. In fact, E-Cigarettes are now the most widely used tobacco product among adolescents and according to the FDA some 2.1 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users in 2017. That number will most assuredly grow. The crisis is so prevalent, many school districts have sued Juul, the e-cigarette company. Juul is accused of marketing to young teenagers, a claim they assert is not true. Courts will ultimately decide the matter. “As smart as our students are, they don’t understand the long-term ramifications of vaping and the amount of addictive chemicals they are dealing with,” said John Allison, the superintendent of Olathe Public Schools. “It’s our role to protect our students today and in the future.” CDC and FDA analyzed data from NYTS 2016 to assess the reasons why youths are attaracted to e-cigarettes. Among those who had ever used an e-cigarette, the most commonly selected reasons for use were:

  • Use by “friend or family member” (39.0%)
  • Availability of “flavors such as mint, candy, fruit, or chocolate” (31.0%)
  • The belief that “they are less harmful than other forms of tobacco such as cigarettes” (17.1%)

Symptoms of Lung Injuries

According to the CDC, they labeled the lung issues, “injuries,” because, “it really does look like an injury, not a long-term disease like emphysema,” Anne Schuchat, Deputy Director of the CDC said in an interview. “While there may be long-term consequences from the injuries,” she stated, “right now, it’s too early to tell.” Symptoms of a lung injury can range from cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, or abdominal pain. While past patients have developed symptoms suddenly, over a few days, for others it was a slow buildup over a few weeks. In addition to the updated injury and death count, researchers from the Mayo Clinic said in a report released Wednesday that some patients’ lung damage resembled chemical burns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement that together with the FDA, local health departments, and other clinical and public health partners, they are investigating a multi-state outbreak of lung disease associated with e-cigarette products. The FDA echoed the CDC’s concern, calling the outbreak “a frightening public health phenomenon.”

Other Vaping Issues Contributing To The Crisis

In the CDC’s eyes, it’s clear that lung-injuries taking the spotlight but this hasn’t been the first time vaping and e-cigarettes have been in the news. A separate issue caused by vapes have been making the rounds. Exploding e-cigarettes have been reported, causing injuries such as shattering people’s jaws and even killing people. While there’s no single cause or explanation for the explosions, the FDA reports they have appeared to be from “battery-related” issues. Additionally, a study published in the Tobacco Control found that emergency rooms saw “an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries” from 2015-2017. In addition to the explosions, there have been an increasing number of seizures involving Juul use. As of August 2019, the FDA received 127 reports of seizures or other neurological symptoms linked to e-cigarette use over the span of 10 years. While, it’s a slow climb, it’s still a lot of cases. Though, more recently three new cases were brought to the FDA to kickstart another investigation which is still ongoing.

Is Vaping Safe?

While vaping can mislead regular cigarette smokers as a safer, more alternative route, there’s to much of a wide diversity with vape products and e-cigarette juices to cover all the possibilities of considering each one safe. The CDC’s website notes that while e-cigarettes are considered to be less harmful than regular cigarettes, “that doesn’t mean e-cigarettes are safe.” Throughout recent years, researchers have found that vaping at high voltages can release formaldehyde-causing chemicals, including increasing the risk of heart disease. Even if considered safer than cigarettes, vaping exposes users to more toxic chemicals and heavy metals than if one didn’t vape at all. In addition, some vapes and e-cigarettes still contain nicotine which is equally as addictive as a cigarette.

Vaping is Popular With Recovering Addicts

For those in recovery, vaping has become a popular alternative to smoking. Obviously, as part of their recovery, patients usually give up smoking as part of their desire to free themselves from substances. For many, the alternative is vaping. There currently any studies showing any links between success in recovery and vaping, so it will take years of gathering data to answer the question “is vaping safe.”866.330.9449



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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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