Jill works as an oncology nurse in a large community hospital. While attending a family gathering, her uncle proudly tells her that he and his 17-year-old son are using e-cigarettes to help them stop smoking traditional cigarettes. He comments that his wife now allows them to “smoke” in the house and car because the vapor is relatively odor free.

What Would You Do?

E-cigarettes, also known as vape pens, heat nicotine and other harmful chemicals (e.g., propylene glycol, glycerol, acrolein) into a vapor that the user inhales. Marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, vaping carries a similar risk of nicotine addiction.

Alarmingly, the use of e-cigarettes among young people is greater than use by adults. They were first marketed in the United States in 2007 and by 2014 were the most commonly used tobacco product among adults and teens. Data from 2018 indicated that one in five high school students and one in seven middle school students use some form of vapor-inhaled nicotine and the majority of adults smoke regular cigarettes in addition to e-cigarettes.

The health risks of nicotine use are well established, but data demonstrating the spectrum of health issues associated with e-cigarettes has proven more difficult to measure because of various types of nicotine delivery devices and newer generations are frequently released. Importantly, inhaling secondhand vapor is not risk free: the chemical cocktail exhaled by e-cigarette users may carry comparable health risks to that of traditional cigarettes.

Jill educates her family members on the known dangers associated with vaping (see sidebar). She shares statistics associated with the rise in young adult use of e-cigarettes and the dangers associated with secondhand vapor. Jill encourages her uncle and cousin to call 800-QUIT NOW to learn more about smoking cessation programs.

For more information about ONS’s perspective on the youth vaping epidemic, read the "Potential Adverse Health Consequences From Use of E-Cigarettes and Vaping" position statement and check out the Oncology Nursing Podcast episode at ONS.org.