Susquehanna Health Pediatrician Warns of Adverse Effects of Teen E-Cigarette Usage

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Recent findings from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey indicate that while there has been a reduction in conventional cigarette smoking, use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) has tripled and waterpipe vapor (hookah) usage has doubled among today’s teens in a year. Susquehanna Health Pediatrician Dr. Russell Gombosi believes the national trend is consistent with what is occurring locally, and that it could take 15 to 20 years to fully determine the long-term effects of e-cigarette usage on the health of today’s youth.

Susquehanna Health Pediatrician Dr. Russell Gombosi

Currently, we lack research on the long-term health effects of smoking e-cigarettes and hookahs to determine whether young brains can replace damaged cells or if there will be more permanent alterations.

Recent findings from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey indicate that while there has been a reduction in conventional cigarette smoking, use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) has tripled and waterpipe vapor (hookah) usage has doubled among today’s teens in a year. Susquehanna Health Pediatrician Dr. Russell Gombosi believes the national trend is consistent with what is occurring locally, and that it could take 15 to 20 years to fully determine the long-term effects of e-cigarette usage on the health of today’s youth.

Experts agree that adolescence is a critical time for growth. Research has proven that nicotine alters brain chemistry and may result in sustained use and addiction. “Children’s brains are much more susceptible to damage by substances like nicotine that cross the blood-brain barrier,” Gombosi explains. “Currently, we lack research on the long-term health effects of smoking e-cigarettes and hookahs to determine whether young brains can replace damaged cells or if there will be more permanent alterations.” While some experts believe e-cigarettes are generally safer than conventional cigarettes due to potentially lower concentrations of chemicals, the battery-powered devices heat nicotine into vapor or aerosol that is released into the air with other cancer-causing chemicals and inhaled.

Gombosi explains that smoking has a proinflamatory effect that leads to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries/cardiovascular disease) and cigarettes (traditional and electronic) produce carcinogens, cancer-causing agents, which can lead to bladder, colon, lung, stomach and pancreatic cancers. While the tobacco industry may argue that the levels of carcinogens in e-cigarettes may be less than conventional cigarettes, Gombosi argues that lower levels are still not as safe as abstinence.

“One concern is that the number of teenagers using non-conventional smoking devices will continue to rise as the habit is viewed as chic. Another big concern is that this new form of nicotine consumption is a gateway to other drugs,” he says. Referencing the prevalence of heroin use in the northcentral Pennsylvania region, Dr. Gombosi explains that drug usage leads to thrill seeking and a need for something more. E-cigarettes are odorless, flavored nicotine that is highly addictive, according to Gombosi, and still results in withdrawal when smoking or vaping activity ceases. “This product, just by its very nature will be much more attractive to adolescents,” he says.

“The FDA has yet to get a handle on the regulation of e-cigarettes and it may take a while before legislation catches up,” says Gombosi. “Both the American College of Pediatricians and American Academy of Pediatrics strongly oppose direct advertising and sale to minors.” As part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed preliminary rules prohibiting sales of new tobacco products to minors and a final rule is expected this month.

To safeguard health and development, Dr. Gombosi encourages parents to maintain open and honest relationships with their children. “Children should feel comfortable talking about their lives and any substances they are using. Parents should also recognize warning signs for substance abuse including behavioral changes, falling grades, acting withdrawn or secretive, strained communication or a change in friends/social networks,” he says. “Parents who need additional help should consult their child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor for resources on drug and alcohol treatment. The Department of Health is also a good resource for tobacco cessation information.”

About Susquehanna Health
Susquehanna Health is a four-hospital integrated health system including Divine Providence Hospital, Muncy Valley Hospital, Soldiers + Sailors Memorial Hospital and Williamsport Regional Medical Center located in northcentral Pennsylvania. Serving patients from an 11-county region, Susquehanna Health is a healthcare leader and has been recognized at the national and state levels for quality of care. Susquehanna Health offers a wide array of services that include cancer care, heart and vascular care/heart surgery, neurosciences including neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, OB/GYN, gastrointestinal services, behavioral health, physical rehabilitation, home care, long term care, assisted living and paramedic/ambulance services.

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Tyler Wagner
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