Researchers in EVMS Pediatrics are concerned about the findings of two studies published this week related to teens and vaping. 

“E-Cigarettes and ‘Dripping’ Among High-School Youth,” published this week in the journal Pediatrics, found that of the teens who reported using e-cigarettes, more than one-fourth said they had modified the vaping device for “dripping.” 

Dripping refers to manually applying nicotine liquid directly to the heated coils of an e-cigarette, rather than allowing the liquid to flow through the vaping device. Dripping produces thicker clouds of vapor, and many of the surveyed teens said it made the flavors taste better and produced a stronger throat hit. 

Paul Truman Harrell, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, leads a research team at EVMS that’s working to enhance the understanding of youth beliefs about e-cigarettes. He explains that little is known yet about the level of danger associated with vaping and dripping. 

“Since vaping typically produces much lower levels of toxic chemicals than is found in cigarette smoke,” Dr. Harrell says, “it is believed to be safer than smoking. However, vaping at high temperatures, such as occurs with dripping, can produce higher levels of formaldehyde.” Formaldehyde is classified as carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. 

“Under certain conditions,” Dr. Harrell says, “heating e-liquids at high temperatures can result in even higher levels of formaldehyde than smoking. It is controversial whether or not people actually use e-liquids at these high temperatures, and we currently have little direct evidence that such practices can harm someone’s health. However, for similar reasons that we suspect that vaping is safer than cigarette smoking, it is likely than dripping is more dangerous than vaping.” 

Another vaping study, “E-cigarette use as a predictor of cigarette smoking: results from a 1-year follow-up of a national sample of 12th grade students,” was published this week in the journal Tobacco Control. It found that high school seniors who reported vaping but had no history of cigarette use were more than four times as likely to take up smoking within a year as those who did not vape.   

Kelli England Will, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics, says there are several possible reasons that teens who vape are more likely to take up smoking. “One reason is that vaping may desensitize teens to smoking,” says Dr. Will, a clinical psychologist who leads another EVMS research team that’s studying vaping among youth.  “Also, nicotine is highly addictive and thus may lead to exploration of other products containing nicotine.”  

Learn more about the vaping research being done at EVMS in a feature story published in our digital magazine.