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Vaping linked to brain damage, UAE doctors warn as more teens take up vape smoking

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Aside from its impact on the lungs, vaping is also being linked to life-changing brain damage, doctors in the United Arab Emirates warn.

Vaping has become one of the most popular ways to consume nicotine products over the past few years, mainly because it does not have a bad odor - like traditional tobacco products - and because its impacts on the human body have not been as widely established as cigarettes have.

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A vape – or an electronic cigarette – is a device that heats up liquid to create vapor which is inhaled. While it can appear to many as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, there are still many health risks involved.

Al Arabiya English talked to health experts in the UAE who weighed in on the potential risks of vaping.

“Most E-cigarettes heat nicotine and other chemicals to create an aerosol that is then inhaled,” explained Dr Mahshan Kalpaka Muhammed, a pulmonology specialist at Burjeel Farha Hospital in Abu Dhabi’s Al Ain. “Studies show that these products are harmful to health and are not safe.”

“Exposure to such aerosols can harm those who smoke and those who are subject to passive smoking.”

He added that there have been cases were some products claimed to be nicotine-free but were found to actually contain nicotine.

Nicotine causes brain damage in adolescents

Vaping or using e-cigarettes is linked with lung, heart, brain, and gum issues,” said Dr Azeem Abdul Mohamed, and internal medicine specialist at Abu Dhabi’s Bareen Hospital. “When inhaling nicotine through e-cigarettes, the main risk is its effects to the lungs.”

Enthusiast Brandy Tseu uses an electronic cigarette at The Vapor Spot vapor bar in Los Angeles, California March 4, 2014. (Reuters)
Enthusiast Brandy Tseu uses an electronic cigarette at The Vapor Spot vapor bar in Los Angeles, California March 4, 2014. (Reuters)

“Vape oils may contain chemicals and metals which can be harmful to the lungs like nickel, tin, lead, flavorings, and other ultra-fine particles. The individual may have difficulty breathing or may experience excessive coughing, chest pain, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, or even fever from excessive usage.

“In more extreme cases, an individual may be hospitalized,” the doctor added.

Nicotine, a highly addictive substance, can harm the developing adolescent brain.

Dr Muhammed warned that e-cigarettes are unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults.

Nicotine exposure in children and adolescents can have long-lasting, damaging effects on brain development," he said. "Teens who start vaping are also more likely to begin smoking cigarettes. Vaping can cause vaping-associated lung injury, which is well-documented from the substance and heat.”

“[Nicotine] can impair cognitive behavior and brain development in the youth, as the brain normally develops until the ages of 20-25. Vaping will have adverse effects on the brain development of youth addicted to it.”

Echoing his sentiment, Dr Mohamed said: “Nicotine is addictive and it becomes difficult to stop once an individual becomes dependent on it.”

“The length of time spent through vaping can be much longer than smoking a standard cigarette. Vaping has more nicotine and harmful chemicals which affect the lungs. Vaping affects the brain as the vaping gadgets create vapor containing lead, which can cause brain damage,” he added.

Doctors concerned about vaping’s popularity among teens

“Many individuals are shifting from cigarettes to vaping or e-cigarettes, thinking it is a way to limit themselves from the harmful effects of smoking. However, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which can be particularly harmful to children and teens,” said Dr Mohamed.

Concerns about the long-term effects of vaping have left several governments on high alert, with many proposing to ban them altogether.

Last week, the European Commission proposed to ban the use of flavored tobacco vaping devices in Europe due to their increasing popularity and health effects and the US’s Food and Drug Administration issued a temporary ban on Juul Labs vaping products.

Dr Muhammed added that vapes and e-cigarettes seem to be “the preferred tobacco [alternative] product of today’s young population.”

“These products are often marketed to children and adolescents through appealing flavors and misleading claims about the products,” he said. “There is a common misconception that E-cigarettes either do not contain nicotine or help quit smoking.”

The doctors warned that the surge in vape or e-cigarette smokers among teens was very concerning and could lead to some unforeseen health problems in the future.

“The false perception that vaping is glamorous or safe is another reason why young people start using e-cigarettes. While these products may seem less harmful than traditional tobacco products, they eventually pave the path for future smoking,” added Dr Muhammed.

Read more:

‘Poisoning our planet’: WHO highlights tobacco industry damage to health, environment

EU proposes to ban use of flavored tobacco vaping products

Growing number of teenagers are vaping, believe it is ‘fashionable’: UAE experts

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