A new study finds that teens develop respiratory problems within 30 days of using e-cigarettes
For years, e-cigarettes have been seen as a healthy way to smoke or as a tool to help chronic smokers quit. But a growing body of research has found that e-cigarettes, like “regular” cigarettes, can also harm your health.
E-cigarette use is increasing, especially in children. It is the most popular tobacco product among young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2022, 2.55 million American middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, according to CDC data, including 3.3% of middle school students and 14.1% of high school students.
A new study from Ohio State University finds that teens who have a vaping habit quickly develop noticeable respiratory symptoms. But why might this be the case and what happens next? Here’s what you need to know.
What does the study say
The study found that teens who start using e-cigarettes can develop symptoms of bronchitis and shortness of breath in as little as 30 days.
What are the main findings?
The study published in the journal the chest, analyzed data from several waves of surveys. In 2014, researchers asked 2,097 teens with an average age of 17.3 from the Southern California Children’s Health Study about e-cigarettes, regular tobacco and cannabis, along with any health symptoms they were experiencing. Three additional waves of surveys were conducted in 2015, 2017, and 2018. In wave 4, more than 15% of those surveyed said they had used e-cigarettes.
During the first wave, 23% of the teens surveyed said they had asthma. Bronchitis symptoms were common in each wave, ranging from 19.5% of study participants to 26%, depending on the survey.
Researchers found that e-cigarette use within the past 30 days was associated with an increased risk of wheezing, bronchitis symptoms, and shortness of breath. The odds of wheezing were 81% higher in those who had used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days than in those who had never smoked. The chances of developing bronchitis symptoms were twice as likely, and shortness of breath was 78% more likely, compared to those who had never smoked.
What the experts think
Doctors say the study findings are significant. “These findings highlight the important message that e-cigarette use is (associated with) health harms,” Dr. Michael Ong, resident professor of medicine and health policy and management at UCLA Health, told Yahoo Life. “These products are not harmful.”
Dr. Robert Hamilton, MD, pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, and podcast host Hamilton review: Where kids and culture collide, Approves. “The general perception is that e-cigarettes are better than cigarettes, but nothing is free,” he told Yahoo Life. “It’s not like you get a pass when you use e-cigarettes.”
Why might e-cigarettes cause symptoms in such a short period of time? Hamilton says this is probably due to lung irritation. “The lungs are fragile entities,” he says. “They’re very sensitive to environmental smoke. Your body’s response is to reject it right away, and you cough.” Wheezing can also be a reaction people experience when their lungs become irritated, he says.
Hamilton explains that when people routinely use e-cigarettes, they routinely irritate the airways. Unfortunately, people—children included—tend to use them a lot, says Ong. “E-cigarette use is often high in intensity, especially among young people, which can accelerate health damage, such as respiratory symptoms,” he says.
why does it matter
Hamilton says this is just further evidence that e-cigarettes aren’t good for people. “The lungs say, ‘Don’t do this,'” he says. “The best advice I can give kids is, ‘Don’t go there.'”
Ong notes that while combustible conventional cigarettes have additional harm, “e-cigarettes also have health risks”—and it’s important for people to be aware of them. “We still need robust regulation of tobacco products to ensure that health harms as identified in this study are accounted for in the regulation and approvals process for e-cigarettes,” he says.