E-cigarettes or “vapes” are known as the wildly popular “safe” alternative to cigarettes and tobacco products. Though many see them as harmless, little is known about the direct health effects of the products. This is especially concerning considering that a 2016 survey found more than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students reported using e-cigs within the last 30 days.
Because e-cigs and vapes contain highly addictive nicotine and other potentially harmful agents, I believe they should be included in the, Great American Smokeout in an effort to avoid having users become the cigarette patients of tomorrow.
The Great American Smokeout is an annual event, hosted by the American Cancer Society, that challenges people to quit smoking. While the rate of smoking has decreased, there are approximately 38 million people who still smoke daily.
As deputy director and a thoracic medical oncologist, I know how important it is for science to more fully understand the health effects of e-cig usage.
As concern grows over increasing the use of previously unregulated nicotine delivery devices, their growing usage among teens and young adults have been called an “epidemic” by the Food and Drug Administration.
Enticing flavors and colorful, inconspicuous packaging have resulted in a dramatic rise in e-cig use among younger populations. As a parent, it’s important to recognize that your children should be avoiding risky substances, including nicotine, flavoring and other harmful chemicals. By including e-cigs as part of the Great American Smokeout, we can help ensure that young populations avoid behavior that could lead to later addiction.
Additionally, any “benefits” of e-cigs, including the claim that they may help individuals quit smoking, should be met with caution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that although many might substitute e-cigs for tobacco products, it’s important to note that many will continue to use both products.
Without knowing the exact effects of the e-cig usage, it would be misguided to assume its relative safety. Until we know more about possible risks, including cancer and COPD, it’s imperative that the public understand these are still products that encourage inhaling potentially harmful chemicals.
To drastically impact the use and sale of e-cigarettes among our younger generation, it is important that we develop a comprehensive plan that addresses the addictive nature of this habit. Including e-cigs as part of the Great American Smokeout is an opportunity to change the trajectory of this epidemic and send a message addressing the unknown public health impact of nicotine delivery devices. To decrease the number of future smokers, we need actionable steps that work to prevent our youth from engaging in addictive behaviors that are marketed as “safe” trends.
Inclusion in the Great American Smokeout would mean a commitment protecting our youth from these potential risks and foregrounding the importance of additional research and it’s a commitment we must make.
Dr. Peter Shields M.D. is the deputy director and thoracic medical oncologist — who focuses on the treatment of lung cancer at — The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.