The Dangers of Youth Vaping and Smoking

Humberto Choi, MD.

As World No Tobacco Day 2024 approaches, Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist Humberto Choi, MD, highlights the severe risks associated with vaping and smoking from a young age.

Organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) each year on May 31, this year’s theme focuses on protecting youth from tobacco use and its aggressive marketing tactics.

The WHO estimates that 37 million young people aged 13 to 15 globally use tobacco, with children using e-cigarettes at higher rates than adults.

“Young people are at particular risk from smoking or vaping, as doing so as a child or teenager can have life-long effects on brain development,” says Dr. Choi.

Dr. Choi stresses that all forms of nicotine use carry health risks, from vaping and chewing tobacco to smoking cigarettes and shisha. “Anything containing nicotine is addictive, and almost all nicotine-delivery methods contain harmful chemicals such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, which are known to cause cancer, and acrolein, diacetyl, and diethylene glycol, which are known to cause lung disease.”

Vaping poses unique challenges as its full health implications are not yet understood. However, it has been linked to acute lung inflammation, high levels of addiction, and dental problems.

“Vapes often contain very high levels of nicotine, making them highly addictive, and their use is often more tolerated in public spaces, leading to higher consumption,” Dr. Choi explains.

Dr. Choi warns of both short- and long-term dangers associated with tobacco use. Short-term effects include persistent cough, asthma attacks, and acute lung inflammation. Long-term use can lead to conditions such as heart disease and emphysema.

Developing an addiction at a young age is particularly concerning. “Using nicotine as a teenager can have life-long effects on brain development,” cautions Dr. Choi.

“Studies suggest that smoking from a young age increases the likelihood of prolonged tobacco addiction or addiction to other substances. It can also interfere with concentration and daily life. Additionally, young people might use tobacco to self-medicate for anxiety or depression, masking the symptoms and leaving the condition undiagnosed and untreated.”

The harmful effects of nicotine use are cumulative, and many do not realize the extent of the damage until they develop chronic health conditions.

“No matter which type of nicotine delivery method individuals are addicted to, or the frequency of use, they can benefit from quitting at any point, but the earlier the better,” says Dr. Choi. “Research has shown that no amount of smoking is risk-free, and even light smokers can develop deadly lung diseases.”

Dr. Choi encourages parents to maintain open communication with their children about the risks of tobacco use and to offer support to quit if needed.

“Giving up nicotine can be really difficult, and people often make several attempts before they are successful,” he notes. Programs like Cleveland Clinic’s Smoking Cessation Program take a comprehensive and multipronged approach to help individuals quit.

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