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The rise in the use of electronic cigarettes has been fueled by the belief that vaping, as it is called, is a way for people addicted to cigarettes to reduce their tobacco consumption or quit smoking altogether.
At the very least, supporters in the industry say, they are safer than actual cigarettes.
The truth behind those assertions are in dispute. There are no definitive studies yet to rely on, although health experts are seeing indications that vaping can indeed lead to serious health problems.
The use of vaping products by young people is of primary concern. The Centers for Disease Control states that e-cigarettes are unsafe for children, teens and young adults. Most vaping products contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance than can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.
The CDC further states that e-cigarettes can contain harmful substances besides nicotine, and that young people who use the products may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.
Those types of warnings mean that while vaping is an overall health concern, it's an urgent issue as it relates to young people.
Recent media reports have indicated at least 15 states have identified more than 120 cases of lung disease or injury that could be linked to vaping. The CDC says it is investigating severe pulmonary disease among people who use e-cigarettes.
Meanwhile, the American Lung Association says that vaping can cause scar tissue in young people, a condition called "popcorn lung" that cannot be healed.
The message is clear. Vaping can be harmful, just as cigarettes are harmful to health.
Despite that, more young people than ever say they've tried e-cigarettes.
The schools can serve a role in educating students about the health hazards associated with vaping. They are doing so by partnering with Hamilton Center to educate students who are first-time violators of school policy, which prohibits tobacco use and vaping.
In these instances, students are not only being held accountable for their actions, they are receiving valuable information about how their health is adversely affected by these products. That's a constructive approach to a public health issue that will hopefully produce long-term positive results.
-- (Terre Haute, Indiana) Tribune-Star