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It is generally agreed by health experts that smoking cigarettes is by far the most dangerous thing someone can do to themselves. Smoking is directly linked to cancers, heart disease, and a host of potentially lethal consequences. Perhaps it is for this reason that vaping, or smoking e-cigarettes, is gaining in popularity, especially among young people. Many think that vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes, which is only partially true. E-cigarettes do not contain the 4600 known carcinogens found in tobacco smoke, however the fluid in e-cigarettes is not water. In most cases the fluid is ethylene glycol, a chemical coolant and freeze preventer used in boating and RV maintenance. So what are the consequences of vaping, particularly among teenagers?

Several months ago a study by several medical schools was published and the findings were rather alarming. Nationally, vaping is reported by 37 percent of 10th graders. What has not been known is how many teenagers who vape, progress to combustible cigarette smoking. This study attempted to answer that question. They looked at students in 10 public high schools in southern California. Of 4,100 eligible students, 3,396 provided assent and parental consent to enroll in the study. Although the rate of past 30-day vaping was low overall, the rate of cigarette smoking increased with the frequency of reported vaping. Among frequent vapers (vaped for three or more consecutive days), the rate of cigarette smoking was nearly 20 percent. In other words, using e-cigarettes frequently led to smoking combustible cigarettes, and led directly to moderate to heavy cigarette smoking six months later.

The study did not look at the reasons these young people started vaping, so more research is needed. Some reasons for vaping should be obvious however. Young people think it makes them look cool or perhaps older. Peer pressure is also undoubtedly a factor. Most teenagers consider themselves immortal or impervious to harm. Most of us only begin to consider our own mortality well into our 30’s or 40’s. Someone who started vaping or smoking as a teenager is well into serious nicotine addiction by that age. More education is needed, both in school and at home. Teens need to be taught the dangers and consequences of starting a behavior that can lead to a lifetime of addiction and negative health implications. In other words, they need our help to see the light.

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