By John Salak –
Vaping really never had a great reputation and now it seems to be getting worse by the day. At first vaping-related problems were limited to posing an increased risk of developing blood clots and heart attacks. Later, concerns rose over potential lung injuries and worries that vaping increased the risk of contracting Covid-19. Now, it appears that vaping among adolescents could lead to immediate and long-term cognitive disorders.
These are significant warning signals considering the growing number of adults and adolescents who indulge. In fact, more than 9 percent of U.S. adults and 27 percent of high school students report vaping at some time.
Two recent studies out of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) underscored the threat by identifying a link between vaping and increased mental fog, particularly among adolescents who start before age 14.
Earlier studies have indicated that vaping could mentally impair the cognitive abilities of animals, but URMS claims its research is the first to identify a connection in people.
The study’s results were drawn from extensive surveys of almost 1 million adults and 18,000 middle and high school students.
URMS noted that all the data showed that regardless of age, vaping (or smoking) resulted in struggles with mental functions, particularly when compared to individuals who neither vaped nor smoked. This is especially troubling for adolescents who are still in a critical period of brain development, the medical center noted.
“Our studies add to growing evidence that vaping should not be considered a safe alternative to tobacco smoking,” said study author Dongmei Li, Ph.D., associate professor at URMC. “With the recent rise in teen vaping, this is very concerning and suggests that we need to intervene even earlier. Prevention programs that start in middle or high school might actually be too late.”
The URMC report, however, was just the latest hit on vaping. The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) also recently warned that vaping, billed as a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes, actually doubled the likelihood that adolescents will start smoking later in life.
“Vaping is marketed towards teenagers and the tobacco industry uses celebrities to promote it as being healthier than smoking,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Maja-Lisa Løchen of UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø. Unfortunately, the ESC reports that vaping is a gateway process that results in adolescents more readily moving to traditional cigarettes.
“Legislation on the marketing and sales of e-cigarettes varies enormously between countries,” said Professor Løchen. “Action is urgently needed to halt the growing use in young people. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that e-cigarettes are harmful to health.”
The problems associated with vaping don’t end here. Stanford University School of Medicine warned last summer that teenagers and young adults who vaped were five to seven times more likely to contract Covid-19 compared to those don’t. The Stanford study, build off of surveys of more than 4,300 individuals from 13 to 21, suggests that increased infection rates may be the result of vaping ability to weaken an individual’s lungs.
“Teens and young adults need to know that if you use e-cigarettes, you are likely at immediate risk of Covid-19 because you are damaging your lungs,” said the study’s senior author, Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, professor of pediatrics.
“Young people may believe their age protects them from contracting the virus or that they will not experience symptoms of Covid-19, but the data show this isn’t true among those who vape,” added Shivani Mathur Gaiha, PhD., the study’s lead author. “This study tells us pretty clearly that youth who are using vapes or are dual-using [e-cigarettes and cigarettes] are at elevated risk, and it’s not just a small increase in risk; it’s a big one,” Gaiha said.
And just to add insult to injury when it comes to vaping, a research team out of University of California – Davis Health reports that hospitals are having difficulties at times deciphering between Covid-19 symptoms and breathing problems associated with product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) that can be brought about through vaping.
“EVALI and Covid-19 share many symptoms but have very different treatment plans,” said Kiran Nandalike, associate professor of pediatrics and lead author on the study. “For this reason, providers caring for pediatric patients with unexplained respiratory failure should consider EVALI and ask for relevant smoking/vaping history.”
EVALI related issues are an increasing problem, with over hospitalized cases and 64 deaths reported in the U.S. But these issues become even more critical for all concerned given the crushing impact of pandemic is having on hospitals and medical services nationwide.
Unfortunately, UC-Davis reports that Covid-19-related practices that advocate isolation and limited social support may actually encourage vaping among teenagers.