In recent years, the Trinidad and Tobago Medical Association (T&TMA) has expressed growing concerns about the dangers of vaping and electronic cigarettes. The association warns that our nation's children are being adversely affected by false marketing campaigns that claim e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to tobacco smoking. This article aims to shed light on the alarming realities of e-cigarettes and vaping, debunk misconceptions, and emphasize the need for immediate action.
Vaping, introduced almost two decades ago, has gained significant popularity in recent years, particularly among teenagers. The inconspicuous packaging, often resembling a flash drive, along with a wide range of appealing flavored liquids, has attracted young users. Data from the Healthy Caribbean Coalition Adolescent Tobacco Use reveals that in 2017, 17.2% of students in Trinidad and Tobago reported being current e-cigarette users, with boys comprising 21.7% of these users.
Contrary to popular belief, electronic cigarettes and vaping are not the safe alternatives they are often claimed to be. Research indicates that e-cigarettes can contain higher levels of nicotine compared to traditional tobacco cigarettes, leading to increased dependence and addiction. Nicotine, a highly addictive substance, affects crucial parts of the brain responsible for learning, mood, and impulsive behavior, posing a risk of future addiction.
Nicotine is also associated with hypertension and the release of excess adrenaline, thereby increasing the chances of heart attacks. Moreover, acute nicotine poisoning can occur if the vaping liquid is swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin and eyes.
The risks extend beyond individual users. Pregnant women and their developing babies are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental effects of nicotine, which can also impact the brain development of adolescents and young adults until their mid-20s. Studies have shown a link between e-cigarette use among adolescents and mental health illnesses, such as depression.
Apart from nicotine, the aerosol emitted by e-cigarettes contains various harmful substances. These include diacetyl, associated with severe lung disease, as well as volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals, and heavy metals like tin, lead, and nickel. Additionally, there are numerous unknown compounds whose effects on e-cigarette users are yet to be determined. A study conducted by the University of North Carolina in 2018 confirmed that e-cigarette aerosols contain high levels of toxins, with increased toxicity observed with frequent use.
The health risks associated with vaping extend beyond the individual user. There is data suggesting a connection between vaping and chronic lung disease, asthma, and cardiovascular disease, which is further amplified when e-cigarettes are used in conjunction with traditional tobacco cigarettes.
The Trinidad and Tobago Medical Association believes that the issue of e-cigarettes is severely underestimated within the country. Symptoms associated with e-cigarettes and vaping often mimic other illnesses, leading to misdiagnoses. Younger patients are being admitted with lung disease, asthma, heart failure, myocardial ischemia, vascular disease, and mental health issues, particularly depression. However, due to a lack of documentation, it is challenging to establish causal effects or correlations between these conditions and e-cigarette use.
E-cigarettes are often touted as effective smoking cessation aids, but the evidence supporting this claim is insufficient. The US Preventive Services Task Force found inadequate evidence to recommend the use of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation in adults. In fact, a study conducted in 2017 demonstrated that most smokers who use e-cigarettes continue to use tobacco products.
Furthermore, a report by the National Academy of Medicine in the subsequent year provided evidence that the use of e-cigarettes actually increased the frequency and quantity of cigarette smoking in the future.
Adolescents and young adults are the primary target demographic for e-cigarettes. Consequently, the US Surgeon General has called for strict measures to combat youth e-cigarette use, including restrictions, taxes, and indoor vaping bans. In April 2023, the West Indian Tobacco Company announced its intention to include vaping products in their tobacco sales portfolio. To address this growing concern, the T&TMA urges policymakers to prioritize nationwide education on the health risks associated with vaping, regulate e-cigarette advertisement and marketing, and prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces.
The association recommends implementing measures to reduce the use of e-cigarettes among the younger population, such as banning the importation and sale of tobacco, flavored tobacco products, e-cigarettes, as well as candies, snacks, and toys resembling tobacco products, as outlined in Article 16 of the Tobacco Control Act. Additional suggestions include setting caps on nicotine levels, restricting e-cigarette marketing exclusively to adults, curbing internet and social media sales of tobacco products, and imposing high taxes on e-cigarettes to discourage their use.
Unless immediate action is taken to curb the growing trend of e-cigarette and vaping use, the consequences will be dire. The population will face multiple comorbidities, further burdening an already overstretched healthcare system. Workforce losses, increased stress and burnout on caregivers, and higher mortality and morbidity rates are among the many risks associated with this dangerous trend. It is imperative that we address this issue promptly and protect the well-being of our society.
1. Are e-cigarettes completely harmless?
No, e-cigarettes are not harmless. They contain nicotine, various harmful chemicals, and can lead to addiction and serious health issues.
2. What are the risks of vaping during pregnancy?
Vaping during pregnancy can pose risks to both the mother and the developing baby, including potential adverse effects on brain development.
3. Can e-cigarettes help smokers quit smoking?
The evidence supporting the use of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation aids is insufficient. Studies have shown that most smokers who use e-cigarettes continue to use tobacco products.
4. What are the health risks associated with vaping?
Vaping can lead to nicotine addiction, lung disease, cardiovascular problems, and mental health issues. The aerosol emitted by e-cigarettes contains harmful substances that can have detrimental effects on the body.
5. How can we combat the increasing use of e-cigarettes among the youth?
To combat youth e-cigarette use, it is essential to implement strict regulations, including taxes, indoor vaping bans, and targeted educational campaigns. Banning the sale of flavored tobacco products and restricting marketing to adults are also effective measures.