Teens are largely unaware of the dangers that can come along with using flavored e-cigs.
Over a four-year period of time (from January 2016 through December 2019), a total of fifteen teenagers sustained injuries from e-cigs that exploded, according to the surgeons who treated some of these patients at nine hospitals across the United States. Ten of these teens were ultimately hospitalized with three needing treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU). The work was published in the Journal of Surgical Research.
More and more, teens are turning to these e-cigs to “fit in” without understanding how dangerous they really are. Vaping is seen as commonplace and something the “cool kids” do. But it is also addicting and can cause serious injury (both short- and long-term). Three of the teens whose accounts were detailed in the study had never used e-cigarettes before.
“It definitely was an injury we were seeing frequently,” said co-author Shannon Acker, MD, an assistant professor of pediatric surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a pediatric surgeon at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “When we think about e-cigarettes, vaping, and the problems of marketing cigarettes to teenagers, it usually has to do with addiction and lung injury. Whereas we, as trauma surgeons, were seeing these other traumatic injuries.”
The authors write, “Six of the teens had facial burns, five of them lost multiple teeth, five had burns around the thighs and groin, four burned their hands, and four burned their eyes. One teen injured their radial nerve, which runs through the arm. Another cut their face, and one fractured their jaw.” Another patient not only needed to be hospitalized but had to return for follow-up hand operations.
“More than 2 million of them currently use e-cigarettes, including more than 11% of high school students and almost 3% of middle schoolers,” according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The authors of the current study share that it’s estimated “more than 25% of youth have used these devices recreationally. While lung injury due to use of e-cigs is an increasingly recognized risk, little is known about the risk of traumatic injuries associated with e-cigarette malfunction.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds, “Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can impair healthy brain development in adolescents.” They also come equipped with enticing flavors, which are made with chemicals that can cause explosions.
“Fires and explosions, while rare, are a risk,” the FDA, CDC, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advised. FEMA added, “The shape and construction of electronic cigarettes can make them behave like flaming rockets when a battery fails.” The agency indicated there were “195 reported explosions and fires involving e-cigarettes in all ages between 2009 and 2016.”
Some teens turn to vaping because of the ease it can be hidden from adults. The devices typically resemble a “rechargeable lithium-battery,” according to Acker. “They are not highly regulated, and the batteries may be of inferior quality and prone to explosion.” Others are shaped similar to flash drives and can be difficult to spot in a teen’s room. It is important, therefore, for patients to have discussions about the risks associated with use.