E-Cigarettes Pose Plenty Of Their Own Risks, Expert Says
MIDDLESEX, N.J. (WCBS 880) — The health risks of cigarettes are well-known, and now the new trend among teens is vaping – using e-cigarettes that contain nicotine and other chemicals.
E-cigarettes employ liquid chemicals turn into a vapor that people inhale, and many are now warning that they have plenty of their own risks – particularly for teenagers.
E-cigarette manufacturer JUUL says it will spend $30 million to keep its products away from underage users, just as the Food and Drug Administration announced a crackdown of underage use of vaping devices.
Dr. Indra Cidambi is a leading addiction expert and the founder of the Center for Network Therapy – New Jersey’s first state-licensed ambulatory detoxification treatment facility. She told WCBS 880 Producer Neil A. Carousso that the push JUUL is not a victory in any way.
“It’s not at all, because this understanding; this belief, I would say, that e-cigarettes are safer – it is not. Nicotine is highly addictive, and it can prime the brain’s reward system for addiction to other drugs. So e-cigarettes to graduating to the use of other drugs is quite possible,” she said. “So if you really look at the statistics, it says one in four teenagers who reported e-cigarette use eventually progressed to smoking pot; smoking marijuana, as compared to one in 12 of teenagers who did not use e-cigarettes.”
Cidambi also noted that some teens are “dripping,” that is, pulling an e-cigarette apart and placing e-liquid drops that contain nicotine and flavoring agents directly onto the heated coil while inhaling quickly. The practice creates a thicker vapor, enhances the flavor, and creates a stronger “throat hit” – the pleasurable sensation that that inhaling the vapor brings about in the throat.
“We need to look more into this,” she said. “The dripping is really bad.”
Cidambi said some e-cigarettes can deliver 20 times the nicotine of one cigarette. She explained that the nicotine goes into the bloodstream and stimulates the adrenal gland – a process that in turn releases epinephrine. The epinephrine stimulates the central nervous system and increases blood pressure, the heart rate, and the rate of breathing.
The stimulation also results in an increase of dopamine, which goes to the brain’s reward system. The reward system is also stimulated by food, sex, and other drugs.
“Once that gets triggered, the plain old addictive cycle starts out,” Cidambi said.
Cidambi also said even among adult users, many are switching from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes – but are not using them as a tool to stop altogether.
“It’s not like, ‘I used e-cigarettes for a little bit and got off the thing’ – no, not at all. Instead of cigarettes, now they’re smoking e-cigarettes. That’s the only positive thing that we can say,” she said.
But e-cigarettes have their own health risk, Cidambi emphasized. Their vapor has been found to contain some carcinogens, and some brands contain high levels of metals such as nickel and chromium that are “not healthy,” she said.
In dripping, low levels of cadmium are also involved and can cause breathing problems, she said.
“I don’t think this is in the right direction – like, we shouldn’t promoting any of these. Smoking is bad, you know,” Cidambi said. “Leading a healthy life is important.”
Meanwhile, Harvard Medical School recently published data showing that nicotine poisoning from e-liquid has skyrocketed. Between the flavoring and attractive packaging, there has been a 1,500 percent increase in accidental ingestions of e-liquid among toddlers and young children over the past three years, the study said.
Cidambi said rationalizing that e-cigarettes are relatively safer than regular cigarettes is the wrong road to go down.
“It’s disheartening to see how our culture is changing now. Our community is accepting those ideas – started comparing all the time what you hear from people who are smoking, they would always say, ‘Smoking weed is not as bad as alcohol use,’ so it’s always a comparison. And, ‘Oh, e-cigarettes are better than cigarettes,’” she said. “So it’s the same – ‘This is not as bad as that.’ That’s not a good comparison. I always say to my patients, ‘Why don’t you compare yourself to people being totally abstinent and not using anything?’ And then they just keep quiet.”
Cidambi also emphasized that pregnant women should not be using e-cigarettes or smoking anything at all, and prescription medications also may be risky for pregnant women.