We Asked A Dr What The Physical & Mental Effects Of Vaping Are Cos Who Knows What’s In Them

PEDESTRIAN.TV has partnered with Queensland Health to help you breathe easier.

Walk down literally any street in Australia and what do you see? Vapes. Everywhere the light touches, vapes. 

I don’t need to tell you how horrible it is for you, or how cringe you look doing it — you know already. And yet it has a toxic hold on so many. Pretty much everyone I know who vapes says they want to quit, that they don’t like the hold it has over them. Anecdotal evidence, sure, but how many people do you know who vape, and do they like it? Do you vape? Do you like it?

It’s disgusting, it’s lame, and we have no real idea about the long-term effects. Hell, I have no idea about the short-term effects — so I asked a doctor for help. 

Enter Dr Sarah Arachchi, a Melbourne paediatrician who’s passionate about the issue and who has seen first-hand the horrible effects vaping has on young people.

Sarah has been a doctor for 15 years and says vaping is “a public health crisis” that must be addressed to stop young people from vaping. 

PTV: So what’s in vapes that makes them so dangerous?

Sarah: Vapes are also known as E-Cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) and come in many different forms. They all involve heating liquids into an aerosol that a user will breathe in. One of the dangers of vapes is that they may contain nicotine which is a highly addictive substance. Nicotine exposure can harm the development of the brain which does continue until around 25 years old. It can also increase the risk of future addiction to other drugs and impact upon attention, learning and memory as well as cause behavioural problems as a result of being ‘hooked’ on vaping. 

What are the worst physical side effects of vaping?

Short-term side effects of nicotine may involve increased blood pressure and heart rate, coughing, and throat irritation. 

The chemicals in the E–liquid can cause damage to the lungs and inhaling chemicals (some of which are unknown and not disclosed on packaging) can cause irritation to the airways. E-cigarettes are mainly composed of propylene glycol and glycerol, and the aerosol generated by these devices primarily contains these two components. For some with asthma, it may trigger asthma symptoms or an asthma attack. 

Vapes can also potentially cause burns and poisoning which is concerning if they are accessed by even younger siblings as well.

Follow up: What happens to the body when we inhale propylene glycol and glycerol?

And what about the psychological side effects?

Nicotine is highly addictive. A lot of vapes do not disclose that they contain it and labelling does not always match what is contained in the vape. Young people are sadly being targeted by ‘fruity’ flavours which makes it sound appealing. A lot of young people are not aware that some of these pods can have as much nicotine in them as a pack of cigarettes. 

The long-term effects of vaping aren’t yet known, could vaping potentially be even worse than smoking as more long-term data comes in?

100 percent. We do not know the long-term effect of vaping but if a pod can potentially contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes — the damage to the developing brain is unknown. Young people who vape are more likely to take up smoking later on due to the nicotine exposure and potentially cause harm to the parts of the brain that control mood, impulse control, attention, and learning. Using nicotine in adolescence may also increase the risk of future addiction to other drugs.

Inhaling chemicals and irritants into the airways can cause asthma attacks acutely and we just don’t know the long-term impact on the lungs. Why are we willing to take a risk on the what-ifs, when the short-term problems can cause harm?

As a young medical student, I remember chatting to elderly people in hospital with emphysema. One lady, I remember grabbed me and said “never smoke — I didn’t know, I was too young, they didn’t know it was bad for you and now look at me, I am in and out of hospital, on oxygen”. I will never forget how many stories I heard like this. I hope our younger generation do not have the same problem with vapes in the future. The unknown consequences and potential long-term lung injury is very scary.

What are the worst cases of vape side effects you’ve personally treated?

Psychological harm — one of the most common reasons kids will try an e-cigarette is because a ‘friend used them’ and the most common reason for continued usage is due to feeling ‘anxious, stressed or depressed’. 

I have heard from parents how their children have become irritable, grumpy, and upset when they cannot access a vape and how hard it was for some of them to quit. However, once they did quit, they felt much better both psychologically and physically.

They can be extremely dangerous and should not be sold to young people. We need stricter enforcement of regulations to prevent our young population from having access to these harmful substances. 

For anyone looking to quit, what are your best tips for getting through that first week of physical and mental withdrawals?

Call the Quitline team on 13 QUIT (13 78 48), GP review regularly, and a psychologist to support them from a mental health perspective. 

Thinking of quitting? QLD Health has a bunch of resources to help you on your journey.