Q&A with a Doc: The Dangers of E-Cigarettes

With Todd Hoffman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are a growing trend among youth, with recent news of severe lung injury tied to e-cigarettes there are still concerns and questions about the long-term health risks of using such products. Tobacco Stops with Me, a Program from TSET estimates approximately 1,500 children under the age of 18 will become new smokers each year, and kids report using e-cigarettes as early as 12 years old.

To help teach children about the dangers of smoking and using products like e-cigarettes, BCBSOK initiated the Be Smart-Don’t Start Anti-Tobacco program in 2004, impacting thousands of Oklahoma students each year. The program features kid-friendly mascot Blaze, the Braggin’ Blue Dragon, a smokeless dragon who makes healthy choices.

Dr Hoffman Headshot Photo

Todd Hoffman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma

To help parents understand the dangers of e-cigarette use, Todd Hoffman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, answered a few questions.

1. From a physician’s perspective, what are the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are still fairly new, and we are still learning about their long-term health effects. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, but e-cigarette aerosol can contain substances that are harmful to the lungs as well. This includes cancer-causing chemicals and tiny particles that can reach deep into lungs.  This may result in chronic lung diseases like bronchitis, asthma and more.

2. What are the common misconceptions about e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes use a battery to heat up special liquids into an aerosol that users inhale. It’s not just harmless water vapor. The e-juice that fills the cartridge contains a chemical called propylene glycol, used as antifreeze. This is going through your lungs and can cause irritation. Vaping is not safer than cigarettes. According to the CDC, e-cigarette aerosol often contains fewer toxic chemicals than regular cigarettes, but can contain harmful substances, including nicotine, heavy metals like lead, volatile organic compounds, and cancer-causing agents.

3. As of January 2020, there have been 2,711 hospitalized cases reported due to severe lung injury associated with e-cigarette products from all 50 states according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. What warning signs can parents look for if they suspect their child is vaping?

There are a few signs to look for. If your child is healthy, and suddenly begins coming down with Pneumonia more often than usual then that could be a sign. Research found nicotine exposure can cause inflammation of the lungs, and bacteria build up in the lungs causing infection. Secondly, vaping can dry out the nasal passageway causing nosebleeds.   Lastly, if you find your child is thirsty all the time, vaping can cause you to lose moisture of your mouth and throat. Additionally, when the mouth is dry it loses some flavor awareness. If you see your child also adding more than normal spices or salt to their meals it can be a sign as well. This is call ‘Vaper’s Tongue.’

Look for odd behavior and keep up-to-date on the latest vaping products.

4. Last year, Congress passed legislation prohibiting the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. Right now, Oklahoma law’s minimum age to buy tobacco products is 18. Under Senate Bill 1423, the age would raise to 21 to match the federal law. How do you think this will change the vaping industry and overall health for young Oklahomans?

If raising the minimum age stops even just a handful of kids from starting e-cigarettes and using tobacco products, then it’s doing its job.

5. What can we do today to help prevent young people from using e-cigarettes, vaping and tobacco products?

Talk to your child and give them the tools and facts needed to help them make the right choices. Look for signs if there are concerns.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma is proud to present the Be Smart-Don’t Start Anti-tobacco program once again. Children and their parents are invited to learn about the dangers of tobacco products at the 16th annual Be Smart-Don’t Start Anti-Tobacco Day on Thursday, May 7 at Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. Admission to the museum is free the day of the event courtesy of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma. Learn more by visiting bcbsok.com

Categories: Features, Health