Vaping—the use of e-cigarettes to ingest nicotine as an alternative to traditional cigarettes—is a billion-dollar industry that is poised to overtake tobacco sales within a decade. Still, its long-term health effects remain murky thanks to a lack of research, and that has addiction professionals concerned.
“We don’t know the exact answer as to what toxic chemicals (are released),” Martha Thompson, PsyD, LPC, CAADC, told National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) attendees on Thursday in Denver. “You’re heating up plastic and metal and smoking out of it. What are you really ingesting at that point?”
Thus far, proponents of e-cigarettes have promoted them as a smoking cessation tool and a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. Thompson cautioned, however, that nicotine—even in a vaporized form drawn from e-cigarettes—is still addictive, and that testing suggests some vaporizers release toxic metals during use.
While the first e-cigarette was developed in 1963, the first modern e-cigarette was released in China in 2003 before arriving in the U.S. in 2007.
“E-juice,” the liquid used in e-cigarettes, has a nicotine strength ranging from 0 to 24 milligrams, most commonly between 12 and 18 milligrams. For reference, regular cigarettes have between 8 and 20 milligrams per pack.
Until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized new rules on Aug. 8, e-juice faced little regulation. The newly imposed restrictions will impact business for more than 12,000 vape shops and 1,000 manufacturers and wholesalers of vaping equipment.
E-cigarette usage among adolescents will be another trend to monitor, said Thompson, who noted studies showing that e-cigarette ads reach more than 50% of 12- to 17-year-olds. The CDC, meanwhile, found e-cigarette usage more than tripled among middle and high schoolers in 2014.