Local medical professionals urge the community to learn about the detrimental impacts – particularly on youth – of vaping. Tennova Healthcare – Harton respiratory department director Tina Patton (sitting) and respiratory therapist Becky McClanahan (standing) warn about the potential dangers. Patton sits where a patient would normally be during a pulmonary function test.

Though e-cigarettes are still fairly new and scientists are still learning about their long-term health effects, local respiratory professionals warn about the detrimental impacts of vaping.

E-cigarettes seem to be particularly harmful to youth, said Tina Patton, director of respiratory department at Tennova Healthcare – Harton.


About E-cigs

E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes. Most have a battery, a heating element and a place to hold liquid.

E-cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine — the addictive drug in regular cigarettes — flavorings, and other chemicals that help to make the aerosol.

Users inhale this aerosol into their lungs. Bystanders can also breathe in this aerosol when the user exhales into the air, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


What is in e-cigarette aerosol?

According to the CDC, the e-cigarette aerosol that users breathe in from the device and exhale can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including nicotine; ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs; flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds; cancer-causing chemicals; and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead.

E-cigarettes are known by many different names, such as “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “vape pens,” “vapes” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).”

JUUL Labs produce a product that is particularly popular among teenagers.


Health impact

Just like smoking, vaping introduces a foreign agent into the lungs, and that can lead to health problems, said Patton. 

“So it causes scarring,” Patton said.

Vaping could possibly lead to symptoms similar to those associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  

Many chronic pulmonary patients experience air trapping, which occurs because the lung cannot empty fully due to narrow air passages as a result of COPD.

The lung capacity is reduced by damaging the lung issue, said Patton.

“I think vaping has a similar effect, but it’s just so new, that studies haven’t been done to prove how much damage vaping can cause,” Patton said, noting this is her personal opinion, and not a statement on behalf of the hospital.

“From what we’ve seen so far, smoking and vaping are pretty equal on the effects,” Patton said.

However, while the effects of smoking can be mildly reversed after quitting, that doesn’t seem to be the case with vaping.

“Some of the cigarette components, and the way they affect the lungs, can be reversible to some extent – you can slow the disease process down.”

The chemicals found in e-cigarette liquid, however, may be a potential cause of popcorn lung – a rare medical condition that damages the bronchioles, the lung’s smallest airways, said Patton.

According to the American Lung Association, using electronic cigarettes or vaping, particularly the flavored varieties, can cause popcorn lung.

“If someone ends with popcorn lung, from what I have seen and read, once that process starts, it’s not reversible,” Patton said. “It’s acute and it continues, it’s quick and aggressive.”


Warning youth

The use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for children, teens and young adults, according to CDC.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s. Additionally, e-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine. Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future, according to CDC.

The impacts on youth seem to be significant, said Patton.

“Their lungs are immature until they are 19 to 21,” Patton said. “If you introduce vaping and cigarettes to teenagers, whose lungs haven’t matured, you have already started that process of diminishing the lung capacity. (The lungs) will never reach full capacity because you have slowed the process down, or just stopped it altogether.” 

Becky McClanahan, respiratory therapist at Harton, also warned about the detrimental health impacts of vaping on youth.

Though studies have not been completed yet to show the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on young individuals, the early signs point to potential and significant dangers.

Popcorn lung is associated with a syndrome, similar to COPD, that causes the reduced ability to fully move air in and out of the lungs, said McClanahan.

“We know that if you stop smoking, you still have a large chance for cancer, but with time, that decreases,” McClanahan said. “We don’t know that about vaping.”

Once damage has been done, there may be no way back.

“With cigarettes and vaping, you are introducing a higher temperature into the lungs, and that causes problems,” McClanahan said. “With the regular cigarettes, if you stop smoking, the lung tissue will regenerate mildly, there will be a mild improvement. But it appears there is more scarring with the popcorn lung.”


JUUL Labs warns youth of dangers

With higher risks for younger individuals, not only medical professionals but also companies have warned the youth of damaging impacts and have taken steps to prevent younger individuals from using e-cigarettes.

 “JUUL Labs shares a common goal with the Surgeon General and other federal health regulators – preventing youth from initiating on nicotine,” said Ted Kwong, media relations and communications, JUUL Labs. “We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products. We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated. As we said before, our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products.”

Kwong added, “We have taken dramatic action to contribute to solve this problem.”

“We stopped the distribution of certain flavored JUULpods to retail stores as of Nov. 17, 2018, strengthened the age verification of our industry leading site, eliminated our Facebook and Instagram accounts, and are developing new technology to further limit youth access and use.

“We are committed to working with the Surgeon General, FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations as a transparent and responsible partner in this effort.”

Elena Cawley can be reached via email at