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7 Health Risks Associated With Vaping, According To Experts

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Whether picking it up as a hobby, or using it as a replacement for cigarette smoking, there are all sorts of reasons why someone may consider starting to vape. But the reality is, it comes with a whole host of side effects and health risks. And that's why some experts say any amount of vaping isn't a good idea.

This flies in the face of what many people see online, with major influencers on social media promoting vape products, without mentioning the dangers involved. This trend, according to Los Angeles Times, prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to send warning letters to four major companies who have paid social media influencers to mention their products, in an effort to reduce the amount of underage e-cigarette users.

Sadly, vaping-related deaths, mostly among young people, have been on the rise, with experts pointing to a lung disease that resembles a rare form of pneumonia that may be caused by vaping, according to CNBC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA have even recommended that people avoid all vaping products.

"Smoking or vaping in itself is inherently unsafe," Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical officer at American Addiction Centers, tells Bustle. "Each time an individual inhales that substance into their lungs, an adverse reaction may occur." And due to the current lack of research related to vaping, "the degree of severity, and whether it’s long-term or short-term, is unpredictable," he says.

It isn't even possible to know for sure what's in e-cigarette juice, but typically it's "composed of propylene glycol, solvents, flavor, and may or may not contain nicotine," Dr. Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, tells Bustle. And some flavors may be more harmful than others.

Some flavors are also more appealing, especially to younger users who might not be into the idea of smoking a traditional nicotine flavor. Experts say they're more likely to go for fun flavors, which is why the FDA focused in on ones like Watermelon Patch and Strawberry Kiwi, according to Los Angeles Times.

"While vaping poses many of the same dangers that traditional cigarettes do, as well as specific dangers of its own, the consensus right now is that it is a moderately safer alternative," Weinstein says. "What some fail to realize is that ‘safer alternative’ does not equal safe." That said, here are the health risk to know about vaping, according to experts.

1
It Can Increase Risk of Heart Attack
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While it may not seem like a big deal to vape, "research has shown that after controlling for other known cardiovascular risk factors, those who use e-cigarette devices are [...] 34% more likely to have a heart attack and 25% more likely to have coronary artery disease when compared to those who do not use the devices," Weinstein says.

And that's because it exposes the body to all sorts of chemicals, typically at unnatural levels. For example, "cadmium, a metal found in e-cigarette vapors, can lead to the growth and prevalence of atherosclerotic plaques and an increased risk of heart failure," he says.

It's important to keep these risks in mind, even when it's easy so to think of vaping as safe.

2
It Can Impact Mental Health

The same study that noted the risk of coronary artery disease also spotted an increased risk for mental health issues. As Weinstein says, the research showed that those who use e-cigarettes were 55% more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.

Another study found that the use of e-cigarettes among college students appears to be associated with a variety of mental health problems, and even urged clinicians to be aware that certain conditions may be more common among users.

More research is needed to see the effects of nicotine consumption on brain function and mental health, the study noted, especially in young people. But it's troubling to think it could be having a negative impact.

3
It Can Increase Risk Of Seizures
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As mentioned above, it's impossible to know for sure what's in vape products, seeing as e-cigarette juice isn't regulated by the FDA. And that's why it's possible to end up with some serious and scary side effects, like seizures.

"Studies have shown that many of the liquid nicotine samples used in e-cigarette devices can contain as much as 52% more nicotine than stated," Weinstein says. "When taken in abundance, users of the devices can suffer seizures, which is a side effect of nicotine poisoning. When the brain is exposed to nicotine in high amounts, certain neurons are activated and results in convulsive seizures."

4
It Damages The Lungs

Even though many people switch to vaping, as a way to avoid the harmful effects of traditional cigarettes smoking, it's important to remember it can still damage your lungs.

"The target organ for chromium, a metal found in the vapors of e-cigarette devices and traditional cigarettes, is the respiratory tract," Weinstein says. "Chromium has been shown to induce asthma, diminish lung function, and cause cancers of the respiratory system, stomach, and prostate."

In particular, smoking buttery flavors can have a big impact on the lungs. "Bronchiolitis obliterans, or popcorn lung as it is most commonly called, is also a possibility resulting from the inhalation of diacetyl, an artificial flavoring ingredient," Weinstein says. "It is safe to consume and is present in popcorn, flavored coffee, and butterscotch, but it has been suggested that individuals keep a distance from foods containing diacetyl that are being heated."

While it's not fully understood why it happens, he says, there is a connection between heating this flavor and inhaling it, and developing lung health issues.

5
Vaping Can Cause Neurological Damage
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Believe it or not, vaping can also lead to neurological damage over time, mostly due to unsafe levels of the metal manganese that e-cigarette devices create. As Weinstein says, "Manganese is the fifth most abundant metal, but when inhaled at the levels produced by e-cigarette devices, manganese toxicity becomes a possibility."

The trouble is, many people don't put two and two together, and continue smoking thinking all is well. "Manganese toxicity typically develops unnoticed and presents with very general symptoms such as fatigue or headaches," he says. "This can persist for years. Further health problems can later develop such as organ damage, hallucinations, or reproductive issues."

6
It Isn't Good For Brain Development

"The brain typically matures at age 25, and, unfortunately, a significant number of e-cigarette device users have not yet reached that age," Weinstein says. Again, it's very popular among high school and college-age students, with more than one in four students using e-cigarettes, according to CNBC.

"When nicotine is introduced to a still-developing brain, it can change that individual’s behavior," Weinstein says. "For example, the cognition and emotional regulation in teens who use nicotine is negatively affected, and these effects continue into adulthood."

While it might not be possible to notice negative side effects right away, "chronic exposure to nicotine during adolescence can lead to a reduced attention span and enhanced impulsivity as adults," Weinstein says.

7
There's A Link Between Vaping & Infertility
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Recent studies have also shown that "the effects of vaping on fertility are essentially synonymous to the effects of cigarettes," Dr. Mark Trolice, a fertility expert with Fertility CARE: The IVF Center, tells Bustle. "There are many false assumptions that vaping is a safer alternative, but both can greatly increase infertility in women and men and also harm babies in the womb." That's why he says that anyone who's trying to conceive should stay away from vaping, e-cigarettes, and cigarettes altogether.

While it may be fun, make for an interesting hobby, or even seem like a safer alternative to smoking, vaping is still considered risky. More research needs to be done as to how dangerous it actually is, but the evidence we already have should be enough to make any potential smoker think twice.

Studies Referenced:

Vindhyal, Mohinder, R. (2019). Impact On Cardiovascular Outcomes Among E-Cigarette Users: A Review From National Health Interview Surveys. Journal Of The American College Of Cardiology. 73(9), doi: 10.1016/S0735-1097(19)33773-8

Grant, Jon E. (2019). E-Cigarette Use (Vaping) is Associated with Illicit Drug Use, Mental Health Problems, and Impulsivity in University Students. Ann Clin Psychiatry. 31(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6420081/

Raymond, BH. (2018). The Nicotine Content of a Sample of E-cigarette Liquid Manufactured In The United States. J Addict Med. 12 (2), doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000376

Kreiss, K. (2002). Clinical Bronchiolitis Obliterans In Workers At A Microwave-Popcorn Plant. N Engl J Med. 347(5): 330-8, doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa020300

Caron, Kathleen, M. (2019). E-Cigarette Exposure Delays Implantation and Causes Reduce Weight Gain in Female Offspring Exposed In Utero. Journal of the Endocrine Society. 3(10), https://academic.oup.com/jes/article/3/10/1907/5560172

Experts:

Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical officer at American Addiction Centers

Dr. Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center

Dr. Mark Trolice, fertility expert with Fertility CARE: The IVF Center

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