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What is Vaping and How Does it Work?

They are known by many different names—e-cigs, vapes, vape pens, tank systems, mods, e-hookahs, JUULs (a popular brand of e-cigarette devices) and more.

They come in many different shapes and sizes—some look like regular cigarettes, cigars or pipes; some look like flash-drives, pens, or other everyday household items.

Most all have a battery, a heating element, and a chamber, tank or cartridge to hold the substance being vaporized.

And these days, your adolescent or teen is likely familiar with them.

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What is Vaping?

Vaping is a process in which the flower or extracts of tobacco, marijuana or other plant matter is heated, without combustion, to the point of producing a vapor to be inhaled.

Vaping produces an aerosol more closely related to steam than smoke, and is therefore presumed to be less harmful to the lungs than smoking.

The properties of vapor, however, differ depending on the substance being vaped—and a recent wave of e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury is cause for serious concern.

While Vaping May Be Less Harmful Than Smoking, It’s Still Not Safe

Vaping heats the extracts from tobacco, marijuana or other plant matter with artificial flavorings and chemical preservatives to create an aerosol to inhale.

Therein lies a main concern: there is almost no way to know exactly what chemicals you are inhaling or their impact on your pulmonary system.

Whereas we’ve had decades to research and understand the effects of smoking, vaping research is still in its infancy.

In early 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 60 deaths in patients with e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI).

These cases involve people who purchased black market devices or liquids, and this is especially true of vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The CDC has identified vitamin E acetate as a chemical of concern among people with EVALI.

Vitamin E acetate is a thickening agent often used in THC vaping products.

As such, the CDC recommends people not use THC-containing e-cigarette or vaping products.

They further recommend consumers avoid using unlicensed sources such as friends, family or online retailers to obtain vaping supplies.

How Does Vaping Work?

Vaping heats a substance gently—tobacco to between 250°F and 300°F and marijuana to between 285°F and 450°F—supposedly limiting the harmful chemicals typically released in combustion, while delivering all of the substance’s intended effects.

As the substance’s vaporized molecules are inhaled, they are absorbed into lung tissue and pass directly into the bloodstream.

From there, the substance’s effects are felt in the brain very quickly.

What’s in a Vape?

According to Veppo, a leading vaporizer and e-liquid producer, around 90 percent of e-juice or vape juice is propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin.

The rest is a mixture of water, food-grade flavorings, additives and preservatives, and nicotine (if you choose a vape juice containing certain levels of nicotine).

Substances commonly found in e-liquids or produced when the e-liquid is heated include:

  • Vitamin E – an antioxidant important to our immune system when taken orally, it becomes an irritant when inhaled
  • Diacetyl – a food additive that deepens flavors, it is known to damage small airways in the lungs
  • Acrolein – weed killer, damaging to the lungs if inhaled
  • Formaldehyde – used as a preservative in morgues (doesn’t that tell you all you need to know?), its known to cause respiratory problems when inhaled and can be fatal if ingested.

It is safe to say that, with vaping, you don’t really know what you’re inhaling.

Vaping: A New Generation Is Getting Hooked on Nicotine

E-cigarettes are very popular with young people. Their use has grown dramatically in the last five years.

Today, more high school students use e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes.

The use of e-cigarettes is higher among high school students than adults.

There are three reasons why vaping is so enticing to young people—first, the misnomer than vaping is safer than smoking; second, a lower per-use cost than cigarettes; and third, flavorings and additives added to vaping cartridges resulting in bubble-gum, apple pie and other tastes.

What is most concerning about youth and vaping are surveys suggesting most young people who are vaping has not smoked prior—they’re not vaping to help them stop smoking, vaping becomes an inroad to nicotine addiction. In youth, e-cigarette use often leads to traditional tobacco use, not away from it.