Understand Your Risk: How Vaping Can Affect Your Health

For years we believed the narrative that popular e-cigarette companies tried to push: that vaping was a new and safe way to kick an addiction to smoking tobacco. However, as time goes by, we discover that this narrative was not only misleading, but it also posed a dangerous threat to us and our children.

According to a recent CDC study, there has been a rise in e-cigarette usage among adults. In 2021, 4.5 percent of U.S. adults (approximately 5.9 million) used e-cigarette products and approximately 2.8 million middle and high school students said they recently had access to a tobacco product, with e-cigarettes being the most popular choice among this age group. Why is this an issue? New medical research indicates e-cigarette products can negatively impact your health in a number of ways, affecting your heart, blood pressure, lungs, bone health, brain, and more.

How Does Vaping Affect Your Health?

Vaping is bad for your health for various reasons. First, vaping devices contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance that will not only hurt your wallet, but also may cause changes to your brain. Research shows that individuals, particularly adolescents, who consume nicotine products, often have changes in their brain’s development. Moreover, the highly addictive nature of nicotine can lead to consumer dependency, which can result in withdrawal symptoms if you ever stop using nicotine. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Feeling irritated, grouchy, or upset
  • Feeling jumpy or restless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling hungry all the time (weight gain)
  • Anxiety, sadness, or depression

Vaping also involves the inhalation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Research has shown that the aerosols and vapors inhaled while vaping contain carcinogenic compounds that will increase your risk for cancer. Additionally, we know that vaping exerts additional strain on the heart, leading to problems with the function of your blood vessels. Vaping leads to elevated blood pressure levels and higher oxidative stress which can potentially harm your cardiovascular health.

Another study suggests that younger vapers, especially those who vape daily, are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction and experience headaches or migraines. Continued use of e-cigarette products can also dry out your mouth, leading to problems with your teeth and gums.

Lastly, vaping affects your overall lung health. Inhaling substances that are not intended for our bodies or our lungs cause harm to our respiratory system. Although vaping does not involve combustion associated with traditional cigarette smoking, which results in the accumulation of tar and carbon monoxide in the lungs, it still exposes us to harmful elements such as smoke, heavy metals, and other VOCs. These substances are detrimental to lung health and may cause lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Furthermore, weakened lungs also have a harder time fighting off respiratory illnesses, resulting in prolonged and frequent sickness.

Is Vaping Safer than Smoking?

While vaping might be the lesser of two evils, there is a lot we don’t know about them. Just because vaping is “safer than smoking” doesn’t make it safe. Brushing your teeth without toothpaste is better than not brushing them at all, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a certified dental professional who would recommend you skip toothpaste. More concerningly, there simply hasn’t been enough time to definitively prove that e-cigarettes aren’t going to have major impacts on your health later in life. Vaping wasn’t widely accessible to the public until 2007 and didn’t gain popularity until around 2015. We don’t have 50 years of research to examine like we do for other forms of smoking, which means there could be undiscovered consequences that we are unaware of.

We know that inhaling the carcinogens that e-cigarettes produce will lead to significant health issues including cancers and other life-threatening conditions, but we need much more time to conduct further research into the possible health ramifications of long and short-term e-cigarette use.

If It’s Bad, Why Does Vaping Make Me Feel Good?

Vaping may indeed make you feel better in the moment. Nicotine, being a highly addictive substance can enhance alertness, improve focus, and even energize you. However, the problem is that the same things that make you feel good at the moment are exactly what creates such a strong dependence on nicotine and vape products.

“It’s like the beginning of a toxic relationship. It’s all really positive until things start happening to make you rethink your relationship, but by that point, you’re already in the relationship,” said board certified internist and pediatrician, Sarah Chen, DO of TPMG Holland Road Family Medicine in Virginia Beach.

Studies conducted on the brains of rats exposed to nicotine have shown that those exposed, particularly younger rats, had an increased sensitivity to nicotine receptors in their brains. This heightened response to nicotine leads to a stronger desire for more. Similar to any other addiction, the more you consume, the more you crave, and you’ll begin to experience those symptoms of withdrawal.

E-Cigarettes Among Children & Teens

One of the greatest public health concerns is a new generation getting hooked on these products. Several factors are contributing to the rise in popularity among teens, such as exposure to online advertisements, flavor appeal, and the ability to conceal and use discreetly. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teen e-cigarette users are 3.6 times more likely to report using traditional combustible cigarettes later in life.

Additionally, we know that e-cigarettes have an additional impact on those with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making, decides between the pros and cons and makes judgment calls. This part of the brain doesn’t become fully developed until around the age of 26. Engaging in vaping or smoking during this developmental stage could lead to issues with its growth and development.

Tips to Quit Vaping & Smoking

The best step you can take towards quitting vaping is deciding to quit. Once you do, there are many resources that can help you on your journey to successfully quitting smoking. If you’re looking for a place to start, try these helpful tips:

  • Choose why you want to quit and write it down as a reminder
  • Mark your calendar – choose a day to quit
  • Toss out all vaping products and supplies
  • Download smoking cessation tools – various apps are available
  • Understand withdrawals
  • Ask your healthcare provider for smoking cessation materials

Quitting an incredibly addictive substance like nicotine is a difficult process, but not impossible—especially if you have help. Talk to a TPMG provider in Virginia Beach, or any of our 85 locations across Hampton Roads, and learn how you can get started.

sarah chen do

About Sarah Chen, DO

Sarah Chen, DO is board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. As a primary care physician, Dr. Chen strives to remain up to date in her practice, offering patients the best care possible. She also believes that the best patient-provider relationships require open communication, where her patients feel heard. She encourages her patients to take an active role in their health by equipping them with the knowledge and tools to better understand their condition. Dr. Chen is an Internist and Pediatrician in Virginia Beach who warmly welcomes new patients to reserve an appointment with her at TPMG Holland Road Family Medicine in Virginia Beach.

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