Myths and myths busted

Sonia Zaacks and Matthew Chupack, Executive Features Editor and Features Editor

Myth: I can stop whenever I want…

The belief that e-cigarettes are not addictive is a myth. University researcher Ayodeji Awopegba said in a phone interview that because e-cigarettes contain nicotine, kids are becoming addicted to nicotine products. JUULs contain higher concentrations of nicotine per pod than conventional cigarettes contains per pack, making them especially addictive.

High doses of nicotine should be avoided, especially by youth. Despite what is advertised, not only can e-cigarettes be addictive, but they can also pose a danger to users, said Awopegba.

“Nicotine in high concentrations is harmful,” said Awopegba. “It’s poisonous to kids. Nicotine affects the adolescent brain.”

Myth busted: Nicotine’s effect on the brain

E-cigarettes can affect the way an adolescent brain develops and how the brain responds to addictive products because of the underdeveloped frontal lobe. 

Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, said in a phone interview that adolescents who use e-cigarettes are more susceptible to using other addictive products in the future because of their developed dependence on nicotine. One of the newer e-cigarette products, such as JUULs, contain 59 milligrams per milliliter of nicotine per pod, which is more than the amount of nicotine contained in an entire pack of cigarettes. 

“If you’re addicted and you haven’t been able to have your next nicotine fix, you’re going to lose concentration,” said Halpern-Felsher. “It’s going to be hard to focus, you’re going to be jittery, [angry and depressed]. Your whole demeanor is going to change as you’re really trying to focus on wanting nicotine products.”

Myth: I’m only inhaling water vapor …

People who believe e-cigarettes only contain water vapor are under a false impression according to Ray Niaura, professor of social and behavioral sciences at the College of Global and Public Health at New York University, in a phone interview.  

Niaura said the vapor is produced by the heating of chemicals, so the vapor is not pure water. These chemicals are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so they are fit for consumption. However, there are still other chemicals that could be inhaled. The long-term safety of those chemicals is unknown.

“[E-cigarettes] can contain nicotine in vaporized form, but also … the usual ingredients which are a mixture of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin,” said Niaura. “Those are the two compounds that create the vapor and the clouds of vapor that you see when people are using these products.”

Myth busted: Chemical effects on the heart and lungs

E-cigarettes are composed of nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals, but can also contain toxic metals that can affect the lungs. 

Dr. Nicholas Chadi, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent and addiction medicine at Harvard University, said in a phone interview that the chemicals within e-cigarettes can directly affect the respiratory and circulatory systems. If someone is exposed to those chemicals, heart rate and blood pressure can increase. 

“There are heavy metals [in e-cigarettes] … like copper and nickel, and [they] can kind of scar your lungs,” said Chadi. “People who [use JUULs], you know, for hours at a time, not stopping, … would get really fast heart rate, their blood pressure would go up, so that would definitely have a direct effect on their heart and lungs and blood vessels.”