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Electronic Cigarettes Pose Higher Risks For Teens Than Adults: National Academies Report

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While electronic cigarettes may help some adults quit smoking, teens who vape face a higher chance of becoming smokers of conventional tobacco cigarettes themselves, according to the findings of a congressionally mandated study. 

A new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine was released on January 23, indicating that e-cigarettes may be more harmful and addictive for teens than they are for adults, according to a press release outlining the findings.

The report focused on e-cigarette health effects and involved an analysis of more than 800 peer-reviewed scientific studies, indicating that teens may be at a high risk of moving from vaping to smoking traditional cigarettes. The data also indicated there was “moderate evidence” to show e-cigarettes cause increased coughing, wheezing, and asthma in teens.

Research published last year linked teen e-cigarette use to a higher likelihood a youth will smoke tobacco cigarettes. Another study published in 2015 indicated vaping was just as addictive as smoking tobacco cigarettes.

These latest conclusions also support other studies indicating vaping, especially vaping candy-like flavored e-cigarettes, may lead to increased risk of oral cancer, as well as heightened risk of respiratory symptoms, like wheezing among teens.

The findings come as teens are vaping at increasing numbers. It is now the most popular form of tobacco use among teens.

For adults, the news is much better, as researchers indicate that the health risks for adults who vape may be significantly less harmful than conventional cigarettes.

While research has shown e-cigarettes contain a wide range of toxic, cancer causing substances, the new data indicated e-cigarettes may contain lower levels of those substances than conventional cigarettes. They also may help adults who smoke traditional tobacco cigarettes quit smoking altogether.

However, the positive effects may not be the whole story. Long-term effects of e-cigarettes are still unclear, as they are relatively new products, researchers warn.

The congressional study also came to several other conclusions concerning the health and harms of e-cigarettes. Research indicated nicotine levels are variable depending on the device and e-liquid, likewise nicotine intake may be similar to conventional tobacco cigarettes.

E-cigarettes may expose users to fewer toxic chemicals and carcinogens, but they still expose users to numerous potentially toxic substances, and repeated use often results in dependence.

More so, while second hand exposure to nicotine and particulates from e-cigarettes is lower than from conventional cigarettes, it still allows airborne concentrations of particulate matter and nicotine to be released into indoor environments.

“E-cigarettes cannot be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful,” said David Eaton, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and dean and vice provost of the Graduate School of the University of Washington, Seattle. “In some circumstances, such as their use by non-smoking adolescents and young adults, their adverse effects clearly warrant concern. In other cases, such as when adult smokers use them to quit smoking, they offer an opportunity to reduce smoking-related illness.”

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