It may not be so cool to smoke cigarettes these days, but vaping is pretty much as deadly and it’s becoming a big problem amongst our teenaged school children.

The 2017 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug Survey found about 13 per cent of high school students had used an e-cigarette at least once, while 32 per cent of these students had used one in the past month.

There is also a concern that vaping is a gateway to conventional tobacco cigarettes.

It’s no wonder that vaping is becoming popular amongst teens – they’re easy to get, easy to hide and there is not usually a detectable smell.

However, the worry is that e-cigarettes can be just as dangerous as traditional smoking. Let’s take a closer look at the warnings.

Vaping: As an imaging scientist I fear the deadly impact on people’s lungs

Lung MRI of an ex-smoker of cannabis and tobacco, showing poor lung function and truncated airway tree. In vaping patients, oily substances have also been found inside their lung tissue and airways.
(Parraga lab), Author provided

Grace Parraga, Western University

Vaping causes severe illness in otherwise healthy young adults and teenagers. It causes a life-threatening, life-shortening and sometimes deadly lung toxicity and injury — with apparently irreversible damage that cannot be cured.

A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine on 53 confirmed cases of young e-cigarette users hospitalized with severe lung toxicity and injury clearly shows that this is the case. The average age of these patients was 19.

A relatively short history of vaping has led to hospitalization, weeks of intensive care, lung failure, the urgent need for a heart-lung bypass machine and then, after all attempts have failed, needless deaths in otherwise healthy young people.

As a lung-imaging scientist, I develop new ways to see inside the chest so that lung abnormalities can be easily measured and monitored in patients. I see the devastating effects inside the lungs of cigarette and cannabis smokers. I also see how the airways are destroyed and how millions of air sacs appear demolished or completely wiped out, all of which results in severe breathlessness, miserable quality of life and then death.

Because of my experience developing new ways to image the lungs and seeing the impact of inhaled smoke and gases on lung health, I have been disturbed that government and other regulators have taken a hands-off approach to the risk of e-cigarettes.

I am alarmed that e-cigarette marketing is so pervasive, persuasive and widespread, especially when this marketing targets children and teenagers in whom lung growth and development has not yet completed.

Oily substances found inside the lungs

In some of the recent reports about patients with vaping-associated lung toxicity, oily substances were found inside their white blood cells, lung tissue and airways.

While these oils may be related to the e-cigarette nicotine and THC mixtures these patients used, it is not clear yet — and remains difficult to understand — how such serious, life-threatening lung disease can be set off by e-cigarette use.

A patient is prepared for a lung MRI.
(Parraga lab), Author provided

I think it’s helpful to visualize this by imagining a pound of butter as a solid and by melting into a liquid and heating again at high temperatures, the butter becomes a gaseous vapour, which can be inhaled. The buttery vapour coating, while delicious on popcorn, forms a solid again when it cools inside the lungs and becomes a toxic initiator of lung inflammation and failure.

One quarter of high school students vaping

E-cigarettes have been promoted as a safe, cool alternative to cigarettes. Not surprisingly, this marketing has worked well in children and teens.

During 2017-2018, the rate of high-school students using e-cigarettes in the united States doubled to 21 per cent, which is greater than the rates of tobacco smoking among children and adults alike. Estimates for 2019 suggest that one quarter of North American high school students use e-cigarettes.

Vaping devices also provide the ultimate flexibility — mixing and matching inserts, oils and active ingredients is relatively easy to do. This means that products are being marketed and sold to kids who have the time and energy to invent new mixtures, have a high tolerance for risk and have a complex need for peer-approval to try them out too.

 What could possibly go wrong? Why are we surprised by the current situation?

Aggressive marketing, lack of safety testing

We have known for decades that lung damage occurs because of chemical exposures in at-risk occupations and from chronic inhalation of gases and smoke, so I wonder why anyone would assume that e-cigarettes would not be dangerous and damaging too?

I wonder why resplendent and aggressive marketing of e-cigarettes is acceptable in corner stores and gas stations everywhere while cigarettes are rightly held, incognito, behind locked, opaque shelves in the same store.

Even worse, small “vape shops” also offer after-market replacement products for free — many of which have dubious origins and no safety testing. This has to be exposed, investigated and stopped.

Fad-flavoured e-cigarettes must be banned

For all these reasons, regulation of vaping products, their advertisement and placement in stores need to be reconsidered and tightened up similar to tobacco products.

Fun- and fad-flavoured e-cigarettes that are directly promoted to children should be banned. Health-care professionals and scientists need to shout out about the dangers, outside of their offices, labs and clinics — until things change.

Multinational corporations including Big Vape, Big Cannabis and Big Tobacco have a history of finding — and will continue to find — new and ingenious ways to profit from adults’, teenagers’ and children’s tragic decisions, addictions and mistaken understandings about inhaled product risks.

It is like cigarettes all over again.

[Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news,day. ]The Conversation

Grace Parraga, Professor and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair, Western University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Are you concerned about your child vaping? Tell us in the comments below.

More on Mouths of Mums

(Main image credit: Photo by Nery Zarate on Unsplash)

  • I can’t believe how wide spread it is in teen’s my eldest is 9 hopefully I don’t have to wory yet


  • I always assumed it was just a simple bad as smoking


  • I feel that vaping is as bad if not worse than smoking. Would advise anyone against taking this up.


  • I think that teenagers just don’t understand that this is just as bad as smoking, or even worse


  • I used to smoke heavily but then one day my husband said “You give up smoking and so will I”. We threw the last of our cigarettes away and I never smoked again but he went on to the odd cigar for a short while then he cut out as well. There were less addictive ingredients in them when I smoked. Can’t see how vaping is any safer just different in the way it can kill you


  • My sister smokes and I tried it as kid but hated it. I hope my children doing want to do out and I would be very against it if they did.


  • ive never smoked but when i saw vaping as an alternative, I asked then where the evidence was for it being healthier. My eldest hasn’t even started primary yet, but as she grows I intend on educating her about smoking, drugs, alcohol etc, and I can only hope she makes the smart decision regarding them all.


  • Very scary, to my knowledge my kids don’t smoke anything


  • This is so gross and very unattractive.


  • Had no idea they were dangerous!
    Thank you for sharing this as I can now let my hubby know.


  • There I’ll alqays be something ????????????


  • I one hundred per cent am against putting anything into your body that isn’t healthy. But I think vaping is a healthier alternative to cigarettes. They say they’re seeing damaged lungs from vaping, but how many more damaged lungs do they see due to cigarettes and pot smoking? There are also vape juices out there that are lower quality and vape devices that can do excess damage. Basically, if used incorrectly, it will be more dangerous. I still think it’s a healthier option to smoking and I also think ppl use them to get off cigarettes, not as a gateway to smoking, more like a gateway away from cigarettes


  • They should definitely be held to the same laws as traditional cigarettes. Not something I want to see people taking up.


  • They should be banned just like cigarettes


  • If they don’t want people to be influenced why do they keep developing these things.


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