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AAP National Conference: Research mounting on dangers of e-cigarettes :

October 24, 2016

Some say electronic cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes. Others tout the devices as an aid to help smokers kick the habit. And some teens see them as a harmless way to fit in and have fun.

But are any of these beliefs really true?

Karen Wilson, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, will give an update on what is known about the safety of e-cigarettes during a session titled “E-Cigs: What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt” from 5-5:45 p.m. (F3167) Monday in Room 302 of Moscone South. She also will talk about how pediatricians can address e-cig use with adolescents and parents.

“We really are starting to understand more about the dangers of electronic cigarettes,” said Dr. Wilson, chair of the AAP Section on Tobacco Control Executive Committee.

E-cigarettes are among a host of products called electronic nicotine delivery systems. The devices heat a liquid until it aerosolizes, and the user then inhales the vapor.

There is a lot of variability in the content of the liquid, Dr. Wilson explained. Some liquids contain nicotine, while others are flavored and have a propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin base.

The systems also are being used to aerosolize cannabis or leaf marijuana with very little odor.

“The one that scares me the most is actually designed to look like an albuterol inhaler,” Dr. Wilson said. “The marketing of this is getting very clever. They’re making it in ways that make marijuana use and cigarette use very subtle.”

Dr. Wilson will review the latest research on e-cigarettes, including studies showing that nicotine delivered through e-cigs primes adolescents for cigarette smoking later.

Even if the liquid does not contain nicotine, carcinogenic chemicals are created when the liquid is heated.

“The aerosol that is emitted from the electronic cigarettes has been described as ‘harmless water vapor.’ And we know that is just not true,” said Dr. Wilson, associate professor, the University of Colorado, Denver School of Medicine and the Children's Hospital Colorado.

“We’re very concerned about parents who are using this around their children because they feel like it’s safe,” Dr. Wilson said, “and we’re also concerned about adolescents who are inhaling these chemicals into their lungs.”

Dr. Wilson also will share resources to help pediatricians in their conversations with adolescents and parents. Among them are the AAP Julius B. Richmond Center of Excellence and the Section on Tobacco Control websites.

When talking with adolescents, pediatricians should ask teens whether they or their friends are using e-cigs and share some of the negative things that have been learned about the devices.

“Because they are being marketed as safe and harmless, I think a lot of teenagers use them to feel cool or to feel like they fit in,” Dr. Wilson said. “I’ve heard of kids using them so they don’t have to smoke to fit in.”

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