Listen Up: Exposure To Vaping Is Bad For Kids (But Too Many Adults Don’t Know That)

by Wendy Wisner
Parilov Evgeniy / Shutterstock

By now, we all know how dangerous a habit smoking is. In recent years, many people have turned to vaping (or e-cigarettes) as an alternative, the idea being that inhaling the vaporized smoke from e-cigarettes is healthier than inhaling traditional cigarette smoke.

The jury is still out about whether e-cigarettes truly are a healthy alternative to cigarettes, especially because e-cigarettes still often contain nicotine and other toxins. One recent study found that people who smoked nicotine-free e-cigarettes seemed to reduce their exposure to at least some toxins and carcinogens, which is good news.

But the rest of the study results were mixed, and organizations like the American Lung Association have released harsh warnings against vaping as a viable alternative to smoking.

I have never been a smoker myself, but I know parents out there who are or have been, and are doing their best to reduce their intake or end the habit altogether — both for themselves and their kids. To them I say, bravo. It takes a lot of courage and guts to make a big change like that, and anyone who takes that kind of initiative should be applauded.

But one word of warning to parents who vape, or to anyone whose kids be might around people who do: Exposure to second-hand e-cigarette aerosol is potentially quite dangerous, especially for kids, and several major health organizations are advising strongly against it.

A new report from the CDC is heeding this warning, explaining that exposure to e-cigarettes actually is harmful, but that most adults actually have no idea about this fact. “The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless and can contain harmful and potentially harmful chemicals, including nicotine,” the report says, going on to further explain that too many adults don’t realize how negatively e-cigarette exposure can affect their kids.

According to the report, which surveyed a panel of adults 18 and older, about a third didn’t know that e-cigarette aerosol was bad for kids, and close to 40% believed that the harm they caused was just minimal.

So yeah, there is definitely an information gap here, and it’s important that we remedy that, especially since the CDC concludes that exposure to e-cigarettes actually can cause quite a bit of damage to our littlest people.

Dr. Brian King, one of the authors of the study, as well the deputy director for research translation at the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, explains to NPR why so many adults are in the dark about this fact. “We didn’t really see the use of these products increase among adults or youth until around 2011 or 2012,” King tells NPR. “They’re heavily promoted, and frequently the inherent risks of using these products, particularly among youth, is not included in that promotion.”

In other words, it’s not entirely our fault for not knowing (I certainly had no idea until I researched this article), but we need to start learning more about this health risk and definitely keep our kids away from this stuff.

The U.S. Surgeon General has some even stronger words about the danger of inhaled e-cigarette aerosols. According to a 2016 report, nicotine, heavy metals, and other small, but harmful particles have been found in second-hand aerosol. Another 2016 report from the Surgeon General specifically addresses the dangers of this aerosol to kids and advocates the implementation of stronger policies to regulate e-cigarette use, especially in indoor spaces, where the risk of exposure to aerosol has the most potential for harm.

“A sufficient body of evidence justifies actions taken now to prevent and reduce the use of e-cigarettes and exposure to secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes, particularly among youth and young adults,” the report explains.

The American Lung Association has probably the strongest statement out there regarding the dangers of e-cigarettes, listing many dangers to the inhalation of e-cigarette aerosol. (Note: It’s not just the nicotine they are concerned about here.)

“Two initial studies have found formaldehyde, benzene, and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (all carcinogens) coming from those secondhand emissions,” the website explains, “Other studies have shown that chemicals exhaled by users also contain formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and other potential irritants.”


The bottom line? If you are a smoker and are trying to break the habit, more power to you. Truly, you have taken an awesome step. But if you are vaping, and doing so in the presence of your children, now is definitely the time to put the brakes on that. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s the truth, and your kids and fellow citizens will thank you for it.