A study published in January 2019 adds to the growing body of research that suggests e-cigarettes and exposure to vaping have harmful effects on young people with asthma.
It found that teens and tweens who reported having had both diagnosed asthma and exposure to secondhand e-cigarette vapor were 27 percent more likely to report having had an asthma attack in the previous year, compared to those who were not exposed. Published in the journal Chest, the study used data from the 2016 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, which included more than 11,000 youths aged 11 to 17.
“There is this perception among the public that these products are safe, especially when they’re usually referred to as vapor, or secondhand vapor,” explains lead researcher Jennifer Bayly, a fourth-year student at Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “People have this idea that the only by-product is water.”
In fact, the aerosol from e-cigarettes contains substances known to be harmful such as nicotine and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled into the lungs, and often heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Despite this, vaping, or e-cigarette use, is skyrocketing among youth. Data the CDC released from early February shows that 1.5 million more youths were using e-cigarettes in 2018 compared to 2017, and e-cigarette use increased from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent among high school students. The use is highest in boys, and significantly surpasses cigarette smoking.
In mid-November 2018, the FDA announced new measures aimed at curbing the use of vaping devices, including increased enforcement against retailers selling e-cigarettes to minors, targeting manufacturers of “e-liquids” that make flavored products to appeal to youths and launching public awareness campaigns about the dangers of e-cigarette use.
In May 2019, a new U.S. study found that nearly 5 percent of U.S. adults living with children were using e-cigarettes in their homes, exposing them to secondhand vapors. Of concern, the study found that the rate of vaping was even higher – 5.6 percent – among adults who had a child with asthma. Again, this suggests people may be assuming the vapor from these products is safe.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, was based on data collected from a 2016-2017 nationwide telephone survey. The lead author of this study, Jenny Carwile of the Maine Medical Center, also noted that vape can contain much more than water. “E-cigarette aerosols contain potentially harmful compounds including volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, nicotine, heavy metals, and ultrafine particulates,” Carwile told the Reuters news agency.
Meanwhile, Bayly says there’s enough evidence now for physicians and families to include e-cigarette avoidance as part of the action plans for young people with asthma.
Vaping and Teens with Asthma