Vaping: Is the Latest Trend Among Teens Safe?

small  8487219770-300x300Have you heard your teenager mention hookah pens? How about vape pens, e-hookahs, hookah sticks, or e-pens? The action of smoking one is called "vaping."

Though they go by different names, they're one in the same. Hookah pens are slick, convenient, portable, colorful, flavorful e-cigarette-type devices becoming increasingly popular among pre-teens and teens. Cigarettes are known to be cancer causing and drugs are illegal, but teens of today are finding new ways to circumvent both the unhealthy and unacceptable with the use of hookah pens.

Why are teens drawn to hookah pens?

Hookah pens are marketed as being nicotine free if desired (unlike cigarettes and e-cigarettes) as well as tobacco and tar free. In other words, they are being marketed as safe. They are sold with different "juices" touted as containing only propylene glycol, glycerin, flavoring, and water; or the same ingredients that are in your salad dressings and shampoos. Flavors are tempting and seductive: cotton candy, mountain dew, sensual vanilla, chocolate candy bar, jungle juice, mocha latte, energy, and bubble gum among others. The pens are cheap, disposable, and don't need to be cleaned or maintained. Youtube videos show people doing tricks with the vapor created by heating, inhaling, then exhaling the pen juice in the vaporized form. Companies that produce hookah pens have come up with savvy slogans and terms such as "live loud, make clouds," "make your own smoke art," "fresh, outdoor clouds," "sun filled clouds," "airbending," and "vape towers."

Are hookah pens safe?

The perception is that they are much safer than cigarettes and even risk-free due to the seemingly innocuous ingredients in them. They are being aggressively marketed this way as well. However, questions abound and they are not even recommended for smoking cessation purposes. Jon Ebbert, MD, Assistant Director of the Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center, told Science Daily, "...vaping creates a vapor cloud that resembles cigarette smoke. As of right now, there is no long-term safety data showing the impact of repeated inhalation of propylene glycol or glycerin on lung tissue."

Propylene glycol and glycerin, while common and shown to be safe in foods and beauty supplies, have not been extensively studied in humans in their inhaled forms. Hookah pens haven't been around long enough to be scientifically studied and they are essentially unregulated. Most pens are manufactured in China and there is limited quality control. Recourse (such as suing a company) would likely be limited if they are found to put your health at risk. Companies cite "a study" on their websites that showed that hookah pens were safe but the study has no citation, likely because the study was not published and/or publishable.

Is vaping addictive?

Nicotine-free hookah pens aren't likely to be addictive, but may be habit forming. According to a New York Times article published this past March, " officials worry that...[it]will lead to increased nicotine use and, possibly, prompt some people to graduate to cigarettes". Is the hookah pen industry eluding lawmakers by promoting their nicotine-free hookah pens to teenagers with the thought that young "vapers" will eventually graduate to the more addictive nicotine-laced hookah pen juice? There is also a legitimate concern that refillable vape pens can be used to surreptitiously smoke more dangerous products with no incriminating odor.

Can you purchase them legally if you're below 18 years of age? How are they purchased?

That depends on where you try to purchase them. Hookah pens are often labeled as nicotine-free and tobacco-free and they are relatively new to the marketplace. It is unclear whether they are safe or dangerous. Therefore, many states and counties do not yet have laws around the sale and use of these devices. It is unclear whether your child would be sold a hookah pen at a store. One thing is clear, however. The hookah pen business on the internet is booming and it is very easy to purchase them online with discounts offered for bulk purchases. They're cheap- between $6-10 for the disposable pens and $20 and up for the non-disposable ones. Of note, one of the larger hookah pen manufacturers and distributors just received financing to the tune of $4.7 million in order to expand its presence across the United States.

With funding like this and investors and celebrities picking up on the trend, expect that hookah pen use will only be increasing in our schools and in our area.

Have you heard of hookah pen use in Scarsdale? Share your thoughts below!