Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, have become increasingly popular among young people in recent years. However, a new study has shed light on the alarming health risks associated with their use. Researchers from the Center for Tobacco Research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Southern California Keck School of Medicine conducted a study using four years of data from online surveys to examine the impact of e-cigarette use on respiratory symptoms in teens and young adults. Their findings revealed that even just 30 days of e-cigarette use can lead to significant respiratory issues, including bronchitis and shortness of breath.
The study, partly funded by the National Institutes of Health, adds to the existing evidence that e-cigarette use is linked to an increased risk of respiratory symptoms. This is particularly concerning considering that e-cigarette usage is now higher among young people than among adults overall in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over the past decade, e-cigarettes have hooked a new generation on nicotine, putting the health of millions of children, teens, and young adults at risk. This trend threatens to undo years of progress in reducing youth tobacco use.
Despite efforts to regulate and restrict the marketing and flavors of tobacco products, sales of e-cigarettes have skyrocketed, especially during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. This surge in sales, predominantly driven by disposable products in sweet and fruity flavors, has been particularly popular among teenagers. Brands like Puff Bar, Elf Bar, and Breeze Smoke have flooded the market, even surpassing the popularity of vaping pioneer Juul. Many of these products, however, are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are often sold illegally.
The study’s lead researcher, Alayna Tackett, emphasizes that e-cigarettes are not risk-free and calls for the elimination of their initiation and use among young people. The research focused solely on teens and young adults, noting that in the demographic of all adults, individuals often switch from using traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes with potentially fewer risks. Therefore, while protecting young people from the harms of e-cigarette use is essential, it is also necessary to support adults who are seeking less harmful alternatives to smoking.
The research team followed over 2,000 young people with an average age of 17.3 years from the Southern California Children’s Health Study. Participants were asked to complete an online survey in 2014, reporting their respiratory symptoms and use of e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes, and cannabis. The researchers collected follow-up data from the majority of participants in three additional survey waves conducted in 2015, 2017, and 2018.
The findings of the study revealed several alarming connections between e-cigarette use and respiratory symptoms. Past 30-day e-cigarette users were found to have an 81% higher risk of experiencing wheezing, a 78% increased risk of shortness of breath, and a 50% higher risk of bronchitis symptoms compared to those who had never used e-cigarettes. The link between e-cigarette use and these respiratory symptoms remained significant even when accounting for factors such as co-use with traditional cigarettes or cannabis and secondhand exposure to any of the products.
Implications and Future Research
The study’s implications raise concerns about the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, even among those without a history of asthma. It is crucial to confront the risks associated with e-cigarettes and implement interventions to protect young people’s health. However, it’s important to acknowledge the limitations of this study and the need for further research. Future studies could employ more objective measurements of respiratory symptoms and product use, moving beyond self-reported surveys. Additionally, exploring the relationship between e-cigarette use and the simultaneous use of traditional cigarettes and cannabis is an avenue that warrants further investigation.
The study’s findings add critical evidence to the growing body of research highlighting the dangers of e-cigarette use, particularly in young people. The respiratory symptoms associated with just 30 days of e-cigarette use are cause for concern, indicating the need for immediate action to protect the health of future generations. Regulatory bodies and policymakers must consider the findings and work toward minimizing the negative impact of e-cigarette use on young people. By raising awareness and implementing stringent regulations, we can create a safer environment for young people and reduce the risk of respiratory issues caused by e-cigarettes.