Vaping, or inhaling of a vapor created by an e-cigarette or other vaping device, has become popular across the United States and the world in general. For many vaping is a safer alternative to smoking. Vaping has also become a way to “stand out” in the crowd or try something new. But, although it’s not the same as smoking cigarettes, vaping has some negative effects too. One of those effects is poor concentration. Scroll down to learn more.
How Popular Is Vaping?
According to the CDC, the percentage of adults who ever used an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) in 2018 was 14.9%. The same year, 3.2% of adults in the U.S. were current users. The report also states the prevalence of adults who had ever used an e-cigarette and were current users was highest among men, non-Hispanic white adults, and adults ages 18 to 24.
Among U.S. adults who used e-cigarettes, men accounted for 17.8% while women 12.3%. Since around 8.1 million adults in the U.S. were current e-cigarette users, CDC described the use of such devices as a public health concern.
About 34 million adults in the U.S. were current smokers in 2018, and 55 million were former smokers for any duration. The CDC report writes e-cigarette use was the highest among current smokers and former smokers who quit cigarettes within the past year and those who stopped smoking one and four years ago.
Data above refers to e-cigarettes only, not other vaping devices. But, as you can see, this practice is common among U.S. adults. Vaping is also prevalent among youth. The National Institutes of Health carried out a survey that found an alarming rise in the number of American teens who tried vaping last year.
The results of the survey were published in 2019 and assessed vaping prevalence for a year prior. Over 44,000 students took part. They were 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Results showed that 37% of 12th graders reported vaping in 2018. Just a year before, in 2017, that percentage was 28%. What’s more, vaping of each substance mentioned in the survey increased.
The substances mentioned in the survey included nicotine, marijuana, flavored liquids, and hash oil.
The author of the study stated vaping was reversing hard-fought declines in the number of adolescents who used nicotine. The survey results suggested that vaping was leading youth into nicotine use and nicotine addiction, not away from it.
What we can learn from the information above is that vaping devices are popular among adults and youth alike. Quitting smoking is often regarded as mission impossible, but in an inpatient rehab center in Texas, patients get the support and guidance they need to overcome addiction to nicotine and start a healthier life.
Vaping And Concentration Issues
The rise of vaping and the use of e-cigarettes and other devices come from false beliefs they are harmless. Many adults and young people opt for vaping, thinking it’s harmless. They consider it a safer alternative to “regular” smoking. The idea here is that only cigarettes are harmful, so vaping must be healthier.
With the rise of vaping, the need for studies on its health effects amplified. Recent evidence confirms what doctors and scientists have been saying for a while – vaping can be bad for a person. Two studies from the University of Rochester Medical Center confirm vaping can negatively affect cognitive abilities.
To avoid any confusion, we’re going to address these studies separately.
The first study aimed to determine the cross-sectional association of vaping, smoking, and dual-use of these tobacco products with self-reported difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and remembering.
Scientists used the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) data for analysis. They analyzed data of 18535 subjects. All youth included in the study had serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions (DCRMD). They needed to describe their vaping and smoking habits or status. Then, scientists performed the analyses to examine the link between vaping and smoking with DCRMD.
Results of the study were published in the journal Tobacco Induced Diseases. According to the findings, dual users (both smoking and vaping), exclusive cigarette smokers and exclusive e-cigarette users had a higher risk of DCRMD than those that did not do any (never users).
What’s more, e-cigarette users who started using the device in middle school or earlier were more likely to have difficulty concentrating and other problems than those who started vaping in high school. Males were more likely to vape and experience DCRMD than their female counterparts.
Scientists concluded the study confirming vaping, smoking, and dual-use were significantly linked with difficulty concentrating and other problems.
This study had a similar objective to the first research. The main difference was the selection of participants. The research aimed to examine the potential association of vaping with cognitive complaints in U.S. adults. Scientists analyzed data from a combined 2016 and 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) national survey that included 886,603 adults. Subjects indicated their smoking or vaping status and cognitive complaints.
November 2020 issue of the journal PLoS One published the findings of this study. Results showed that cognitive complaints were higher in dual users (smoking and vaping) and current vapors who were either ex-smokers or never smoked than in never smokers.
Compared to new users, current smokers and ex-smokers were more likely to have cognitive complaints. Additionally, ex-smokers had a lower link with cognitive complaints than current smokers. Scientists confirmed that similar to smoking, vaping is also associated with subjective cognitive complaints in U.S. adults.
Why Does Vaping Impair Concentration And Cognition?
Two studies mentioned above confirm vaping can affect concentration and cognitive abilities. What makes these pieces of research important is that they are the first studies to discover the link between vaping and brain fog or mental impairment in humans. Previous research on the matter was conducted on animals.
Scientists explain their results add to growing evidence that vaping shouldn’t be considered as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco. Since problems with concentration and cognitive abilities were present in adolescents and adults alike, vaping has a negative effect on the brain’s abilities regardless of a person’s age.
However, it’s impossible not to wonder why vaping impairs concentration and cognition. When it comes to the youth, it’s important to remember the brain is still developing during adolescence. Since it’s still in a developing stage, the brain is particularly vulnerable to neurotoxicants such as nicotine.
After all, earlier exposure to nicotine could impact brain development in youth and induce cognitive deficits in later life. Smokers tend to have significant cognitive impairment on sustained attention and spatial working memory compared to nonsmokers. Vaping has a similar association with DCRMD due to physical, mental, or emotional conditions (PMEC) in youth as smoking.
Since e-cigarettes and other vaping devices largely contain nicotine, it is possible that vaping has a similar effect on concentration and cognitive abilities as smoking.
Compared to combustible cigarettes, e-cigarettes contain a lower amount of chemicals and are deemed safer. But vaping is not necessarily harmless. The second study, for example, found that current vapers who never smoked had a relatively higher link with cognitive complaints than current smokers.
While the difference wasn’t significant, it did show vaping has a similar association as smoking with cognitive complaints. It also showed the relationship between vaping and brain fog is independent of past smoking history.
The underlying mechanisms through which vaping affects brain performance require further studies. It’s important to mention nicotine has an important role in the regulation of brain development. Uptake of nicotine through e-cigarettes could be similar or higher than that of cigarette smokers.
The uptake depends on user behavior, i.e., puff duration and the device used for vaping. One theory is that chemicals from e-cigarettes, once inhaled, are transported to the central nervous system (CNS) just like other ultrafine particles. In CNS, these chemicals alter the central pacemaker within the hypothalamus. When that happens, they affect cognitive function.
Although brain development is present during adolescence, it also continues into young adulthood. This could explain why the brains of young adults are susceptible to a stimulus like nicotine from both e-cigarettes and “standard” cigarettes.
When we’re discussing this subject, it’s important to mention the findings don’t determine the causal relationship between vaping and concentration or brain fog. They only show the link between them. Several different interpretations could be behind the relationship between vaping and poor concentration, and other cognitive problems. These include:
- Vaping or smoking may increase the risk of subjective cognitive complaints through nicotine exposure, primarily.
- Some individuals with concentration and brain fog may start vaping or smoke to reduce cognitive symptoms.
- Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse could lead to the initiation of e-cigarette use or other vaping devices. Some vapers or smokers believe that vaping/smoking could help with their mental health problems.
The rise in teen vaping only shows it’s necessary to intervene earlier by setting up prevention programs. Waiting for middle or high school could be too late. By that point, many adolescents have already tried vaping devices or are active users.
Keeping in mind the cognitive-related consequences of vaping present in adulthood, it’s important to be proactive. Ideally, one must educate them about the consequences of vaping before the age when they usually come in contact with these devices (13 or 14).
This would also include legislation-related changes that would put a stop to the relatively easy availability and accessibility of vaping devices for an average adolescent.
Education programs should also target adults. Many people start using vaping devices thinking they are safer than cigarettes. The false belief paves the way for the negative effects vaping can cause.
Side Effects of Vaping
Vaping comes with certain risks regardless of the type of device you use. For instance, vaping can harm your heart. A review from the March 2019 issue of Current Atherosclerosis Reports explained that e-cigarette liquids contained particulates, oxidizing agents, nicotine, and aldehydes.
When inhaled, these chemicals affect the heart and the entire circulatory system. Additionally, a study published in the August 2019 issue of the American Journal of Medicine found that dual users (smoking and vaping) are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Studies also show that taking a puff from a nicotine e-cigarette can trigger an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Both effects can affect heart health over the long-term. Moreover, evidence suggests electronic cigarettes are associated with a higher risk of stroke, myocardial infarction, and angina/coronary heart disease.
Besides the heart, vaping can also affect your lungs.
The CDC reported that the FDA, state, and local health departments, alongside other partners, were investigating a national outbreak of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI). As of February 2020, a total of 2807 hospitalized EVALI cases or deaths have been reported to CDC.
EVALI was first identified in 2019, and there is still a lot to learn about it. The primary but not the only cause of EVALI is considered to be vitamin E acetate. This is an additive in some THC-containing e-cigarettes.
Besides EVALI, vaping can also harm lung cells and contribute to inflammation, oxidization, and toxicity. Vaping both with and without nicotine could impair lung function.
Negative effects of vaping also extend to:
- Higher risk of cavities since vaping makes teeth surfaces are more prone to developing bacteria.
- Gum inflammation
- Irritation in gums, mouth, and throat
- Damage to the oral cells and tissues
- Cell dysfunction, oxidative stress, potential damage to the DNA
Vaping devices are heavily promoted on social media and other channels. Many people choose vaping devices thinking they are safer than cigarettes. But that’s where they’re wrong. The negative consequences of vaping are numerous. These effects extend to concentration issues and cognitive problems such as brain fog.
Vaping-related impact on concentration is independent of smoking status, i.e., it’s present in nonsmokers too. A lot more research about vaping is necessary. Education of youth and adults is crucial as many people believe vaping can help them.
Several mechanisms could be involved in the relationship between vaping and cognitive complaints, including mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.