On December 18, Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued a rare advisory—the fourth in 10 years—from his office. “I am officially declaring e-cigarette use [vaping] among youth an epidemic in the United States,” Dr. Adams said.   

The numbers are startling. Eleven percent of high school seniors, 8 percent of 10th-graders, and 3.5 percent of eighth-graders reported vaping with nicotine in a one month period, according to a national survey released from the University of Michigan late last year. The worrying part? Young people think vaping is mostly harmless. 

To understand vaping, it’s best to start on broad terms. To vape is to inhale vapor created from a liquid heated up inside a device. From there, things quickly get complicated. The devices have many names—vape pens, pod mods, tanks, electronic nicotine delivery devices (ENDS), e-hookahs and e-cigarettes. The liquid they contain also has many monikers—it might be called e-juice, e-liquid, cartridges, pods, or oil. Most vape liquids contain a combination of propylene glycol or glycerol—also called glycerin—as a base, and nicotine, marijuana, or flavoring chemicals to produce common or outlandish flavors, from mint to “unicorn puke.” The devices rely on batteries to power heating elements made of various materials that aerosolize the liquid. 

What’s more, manufacturers of a specific type of vaping device, called a “pod mod,” sell vape liquid made from nicotine salts found in loose-leaf tobacco instead of the traditional free-base nicotine found in most e-cigarette liquid. This may allow the user to experience a higher—and more addictive—concentration of nicotine, according to a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine.
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