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Since their introduction in 2003, the popularity of e-cigarettes has grown exponentially, with an estimated 1 in 5 high school seniors vaping regularly. While frequently touted as being safer than cigarettes by advertisers, the truth is there are just as many dangers to be found in this alternative.

“The vaping industry’s ads brought a change to the mindset of smoking,” explains St. Luke’s Urgent Care Physician Dr. Barbara Ellzey, MD, FACEP, FACP. “Suddenly it seemed fashionable, something to do with friends, something sociable.”

In spite of its marketing, Ellzey says that e-cigarettes often contain more nicotine than regular cigarettes and that the chemicals used in flavoring the liquid have been linked to serious lung damage. “According to the Surgeon General’s Report on e-cigarettes published in 2016, known carcinogens as well as potentially toxic metal particles from the device itself have been found in the aerosol mist,” she adds.

“A conservative estimate is that almost 4 million teens and tweens are vaping on a regular basis,” Ellzey continues. Tweens are categorized as children between the ages 8 and 12, and reports have shown an uptick in e-cigarette use by youths in the middle school age range in the last two years.

Ellzey describes the most common effect of vaping she sees in teens as behavioral issues. “The teen years are critical for brain development, which continues into young adulthood,” she says. “Adolescents exposed to high levels of nicotine often develop mood disorders and permanent problems with impulse control.”

Education and communication are what Ellzey sees as the best ways to combat the vaping trend, and resources specifically for children and teenagers can be found online at teen.smokefree.gov. “If you are a parent, I encourage you to talk openly with your kids,” she says. Some of her advice includes: keeping your household tobacco-free, bolstering your child’s self-esteem so that they are less likely to succumb to peer pressure and speaking with your child’s educators about enforcing tobacco-free school grounds.

“Talk with your child or teen about why e-cigarettes are harmful to them,” Ellzey encourages parents. “Let them know they may have long-term health effects from their actions now.”

St. Luke’s Ladue Urgent Care, 8857 Ladue Road, Ladue Crossing Center, St. Louis, 314-576-8189, stlukes-stl.com/urgent-care

Fast Facts:

  • Although tobacco products have been banned from television advertising since 1971, there were no regulations at the federal level for e-cigarettes until August 2016.
  • As many as two-thirds of young people who vaped flavored e-cigarettes said that they were unaware that they contained nicotine.
  • E-cigarette devices can also be used to deliver marijuana and other drugs.
  • Using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.
  • Multiple studies have shown that people who start with e-cigarette use in adolescence have a much higher probability of cigarette and marijuana use as adults.