The Science Of Vaping

By Henry Shi, Science Editor

You walk into the bathroom and a familiar cotton-candy smell hits you. Indeed, vaping is very common at GHS. Electronic cigarettes are marketed as a “clean” and “smokeless” alternative to traditional cigarettes, but are they actually healthier?

An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) works by heating a cartridge of nicotine-containing liquid. The e-cigarette is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (the same battery found in smartphones). An LED light heats a cartridge of polyethylene glycol liquid. Nicotine is added for the effect of a traditional cigarette. The liquid boils slowly, or vaporizes, from the heat. Hence, vaping produces liquid vapor with less particulate matter than cigarette smoke. The e-cigarette liquid is often flavored with sweet chemicals to make it taste like candy or fruit.

According to Science News, vape has similar chemicals to cigarette smoke. Like smoking, vaping releases nicotine into the lungs and body. Nicotine has a stimulating effect, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness (Medline Encyclopedia). However, the long-term effects of nicotine are more harmful. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance; withdrawal symptoms include irritability, anxiety, and insomnia. According to a study by the Indiana University School of Medicine, vaping can damage the lungs and weaken the immune system. When exposed to vape, mice suffered lung damage and weakened immune cells. “Free radicals spawned as the flavored e-cigarette liquids vaporized. Free radicals, with one unpaired electron, can damage cells and derail the immune system.”

Tobacco companies market e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but regulatory agencies are skeptical about this claim. “We are concerned that e-cigarettes may encourage nonsmokers, particularly children, to start smoking and develop nicotine addiction.” (American Society of Clinical Oncology) According to the FDA, e-cigarette use has increased in the past decade, surpassing smoking in 2014. There were 2.5 million middle and high school students using e-cigarettes in 2014, and 3 million in 2015. Tobacco companies often add flavors to e-cigarettes to attract teenagers. In 2013-2014, 81% of youth e-cigarette users cite flavor as the main reason they began vaping. Indeed, e-cigarettes offer no benefit over traditional cigarettes and are in fact attracting young people to tobacco use (Science News).
More research will be needed before we know the full consequences of vaping. Not only is vaping a nuisance in the bathrooms, it is a teenage health risk that must be addressed.