With the popularity of vaping hitting an all-time high within the recent years, it would be a surprise if an adolescent did not know someone who used e-cigarettes or did not use one themselves. According to the findings from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, amongst middle and high school students, more than five million students reported using e-cigarettes in the past month, with one million of them reporting that they are daily users of e-cigarettes (Products 2019). Although it is true that there are some benefits to using e-cigarettes over regular cigarettes, teens use this conception to validate their nicotine addiction. However, the effects of vaping are much more catastrophic than they think. Some of the effects include weakened lungs, harm to the development of the frontal lobe, and a weakened immune system. With the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, e-cigarette users put themselves at a much higher risk due to the weakening of their immune systems.
Although the smoke that comes out of an e-cigarette looks harmless, like a breath on a cold day or after a bite out of a liquid-nitrogen dipped dessert, the chemicals that are in it are extremely dangerous. One of them being the most dangerous of all: nicotine, the chemical found in e-cigarettes that is responsible for addiction. After the use of an e-cigarette, the nicotine is absorbed by the body and is immediately directed to the brain, and once entered, it activates the areas in the brain that control satisfaction and happiness, ultimately causing the body to develop an addiction to it (Abuse 2020).
With COVID-19 being as dangerous as it is, our immune systems need to be in good shape to fight against this virus. The use of e-cigarettes, however, causes damage to an important cell in the immune system that plays a vital role in protecting it, the alveolar macrophage. A macrophage is a specialized cell that is involved in decreasing the probability of particle penetration through epithelial barriers and the phagocytosis and destruction of bacteria and other harmful organisms (Scott et al. 2018). Alveolar macrophages (AM’s) are phagocytes of the immune system that are responsible for clearing air spaces of infectious particles that have entered the defenses of the respiratory tract. In short, the main responsibility of AMs is to keep the immune system safe and strong.
A recent study focused on the effects of Nicotine on AM’s by Aaron Scott, Sebastian T Lugg, and Kerrie Aldridge stems from the discovery of e-cigarette liquid being composed of humectants, a substance used to reduce the loss of moisture. Several cytotoxic metals and silicate particles were found in the liquid that was equal to or higher than the levels found in regular cigarette smoke. With this knowledge, after vaping recently spiked in popularity, they used it to see how much more harm vaping could cause by directing it to focusing on the Alveolar Macrophage.
Prior to the study, they hypothesized that the change in chemical composition caused by vaping would increase the cytotoxicity, the quality of being toxic to cells, and if nicotine was present as well, it would aggravate any cytotoxic and pro-inflammatory effects (Scott et al. 2018). The study started with the development of a novel system to generate e-cigarette vapor condensate (ECVC), a liquid used in vape pods, so they could have a more physical method of exposure. After developing the ECVC, they exposed it on human alveolar macrophages (AMs) to see if there would be a disturbance in their function. They had two groups when doing this, one being the experimental group with the ECVC having nicotine and the other being a control group with the ECVC without nicotine. After obtaining the results, they compared the two groups to determine if nicotine caused any of the effects. The results showed that the group with nicotine present was substantially more toxic to the AMs.
The scientific portion of the study was extremely detailed, but the experimental part was a little harder to understand. The author did not admit to any limitation or flaws in their study so as a reader, one would not be able to tell if anything went wrong. One way the study could be improved in the future is if there was one section dedicated to explaining the experiments and the exact outcomes. Something along the lines of an experiment and control table with all the results so they could be compared to one another. Also, many readers without a scientific background would not really be able to understand the study due to its complexity. Most of the details consisted of extremely intricate words that not many would know, so making the study design easier to understand would definitely improve it for the sake of the readers.
Along with the damage to the AMs that cause the weakening of the immune system, the brain of an adolescent is also at harm. At the stage of an adolescent, the brain is not yet fully matured. The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that is responsible for moderating social/cognitive behavior, personality expressions, and decision making, is one of the last areas to mature and is still developing during adolescence (Goriounova and Huibert 2012). The use of e-cigarettes during adolescence can lead to an increase in risk of developing psychiatric disorders and as one grows older, cognitive impairment. Nicotine exposure has been the underlying cause behind many brain deficits as recent studies have shown, “molecular changes induced by adolescent nicotine exposure that alter the functioning of synapses in the PFC and that underlie the lasting effects on cognitive function” (Goriounova and Huibert 2012).
Although these devices were intended to help promote smokers to quit and improve their wellbeing, we can see how it has produced the opposite. E-cigarette companies such as Juul have created these sweet tasting and fruity cartridges of vape liquid containing up to 5% of nicotine. It is abundantly clear that adolescents would much rather take part in using e-cigarettes than the traditional cigarette. The repulsive taste of tobacco, along with the numerous chemicals used that can harm the body, has caused teens to stray away from it up until e-cigarettes became a hit. Now, teens follow the common misconception that they can still get the pleasant feeling that a normal cigarette would get them without the harmful effects. This ignorance has now led to an increase of teen smokers as the addiction they developed from e-cigarettes causes them to crave a more intense feeling that normal cigarettes provide.
With the epidemic of e-cigarettes in adolescents, it seems that no good has come from it. It has caused harm to immune systems, attacked the development of the brain, and has caused life-long addictions. Although the original use of e-cigarettes was meant to benefit the health of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, it seems that it has caused harm to millions.
Abuse, National Institute on Drug, 27 Aug. 2020. “Mind Matters: The Body’s Response to Nicotine, Tobacco and Vaping.” NIDA for Teens, teens.drugabuse.gov/teachers/mind-matters/nicotine.
Digitale, Erin 2020. Vaping linked to COVID-19 risk in teens and young adults. News Center, med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/08/vaping-linked-to-covid-19-risk-in-teens-and-young-adults.html.
Goriounova, Natalia A, and Huibert, D Mansvelder, 1 Dec 2012. “Short-and Long-Term Consequences of Nicotine Exposure during Adolescence for Prefrontal Cortex Neuronal Network Function.” Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543069/.
Patel, Nandeeni, and Diana Quintero, 22 Nov. 2019. “The Youth Vaping Epidemic: Addressing the Rise of e-Cigarettes in Schools.” Brookings, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/11/22/the-youth-vaping-epidemic-addressing-the-rise-of-e-cigarettes-in-schools/.
Products, Center for Tobacco 2019. “NYTS.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/youth-and-tobacco/youth-tobacco-use-results-national-youth-tobacco-survey.
Scott A, Lugg ST, Aldridge K, et al, 14 Nov. 2018. Pro-inflammatory effects of e-cigarette vapour condensate on human alveolar macrophages, Thorax, accessed 2020 Aug 31; 73:1161-1169. https://thorax.bmj.com/content/73/12/1161.
Featured Image Refrence:
Turrill, Katrina 15 June 2018. “Vaping DANGER: Flavoured e-Cigarettes Can Be ‘Toxic’ and ‘Lead to Heart Attacks’.” Express.co.uk, images.spot.im/v1/production/ejj581zeo8umk2w5ydx0.