What Should Parents Know About the Risks of Teen Vaping?
Teen vaping is being described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemic among young people. At a time when teen drug use and alcohol use has been on the decline, the rise in vaping use among teens has been soaring, which is troubling for parents and policymakers alike.
Vaping was initially marketed as a way to help people stop using traditional cigarettes, but what's being found is that electronic cigarettes have caused an increase in youth exposure to tobacco products and are potentially creating an entirely new generation of smokers who might not have otherwise been.
So, what should parents and anyone know about vaping and its risks?
What is Vaping?
Vaping is a term that refers to the use of electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes.
These products are battery-powered and are an electronic nicotine delivery system. Users inhale an aerosol that contains e-liquid or e-juice.
Some e-liquid may have no nicotine, but some products can go up to having 36 mg per milliliter. The main ingredients in e-liquid are water, vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavoring, and in many cases, nicotine.
The Juul company is the largest of all the vaping companies, and they have recently been under fire because some say they targeted their early marketing toward teens and young people.
Juul e-cigarettes all have a high nicotine level, and the manufacturer says a single Juul pod may have as much nicotine as a pack of 20 traditional cigarettes.
E-cigarette devices can look like traditional cigarettes, they can look like pens, or they can look like very small, discrete USB memory sticks. That's what the Juul devices look like, in fact.
When someone uses an e-cigarette, it produces the aerosol by heating a liquid. Then, that aerosol is inhaled directly into the lungs. Along with the vaping liquids, some people use these devices for marijuana.
How Many Teens Vape?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, while things like opioid misuse are at record lows for adolescents and teens, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of vaping devices among American teens in just a year.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that more than 37% of 12th graders reported any vaping in the past 12 months, which was compared to 27.8% in 2017. More than 1 in 10 eighth-graders said they'd vaped nicotine in the past year, and in the 2018 government survey, nearly 21% of high school seniors said they'd vaped in the past 30 days.
The Risks of e-Cigarette Aerosol
Many young people and even adults mistakenly believe the aerosol they are breathing into their lungs when they vape isn't harmful and that it's just water vapor.
In reality, there are a number of potentially harmful chemicals and compounds in this vapor. These compounds are then breathed deeply into the lungs. One example is diacetyl. Diacetyl is a chemical that has been linked to severe lung diseases. Vaping liquid may also contain heavy metals like lead and chemicals that may cause cancer.
Many teens seem to be unaware of the harmful ingredients they're exposed to via vaping.
For example, the number of 12th graders who said they'd vaped just flavoring in the past year on the government's survey increased from 20.6% to 25.7%.
Why Are Teens So Drawn to Vaping?
Public health officials believe that one of the reasons teens are so attracted to vaping is because they feel it's cool but also because they like the flavors. As was mentioned, Juul really made their "fun" flavors are a key part of the marketing which is why some say they were specifically targeting young people with their products.
Some cities and even states are banning flavored vaping products, and President Trump hopes to enact a similar ban at the federal level.
What Are the Risks of Teen Vaping?
There are quite a few risks of teen vaping. One of the big ones is the potential for lung diseases to develop.
The CDC and other federal agencies are investigating a string of vaping-related illnesses and deaths across the country. They still aren't sure what's causing them but believe it may be related to the use of Vitamin E in vaping liquids with marijuana.
There are also a wide variety of risks that can come with nicotine use by young people.
The CDC reports 99% of all e-cigarettes sold in the U.S. have nicotine. When young people use nicotine, it affects their brains and our brains continue developing until we're around 25 years old. Introducing nicotine to a developing brain can impact areas of the brain responsible for learning, attention, mood and impulse control.
The use of nicotine when you're younger can also make you more likely to become addicted to other substances in the future, because of the ways in which it affects the brain's pathways and neurotransmitters.
As more information is coming to light related to the longer-term effects of vaping, we're also seeing that young people who vape and become addicted to nicotine that way may be more likely to then start using traditional cigarettes.
Educating Yourself As a Parent
Many parents are fearful about the potential that their teen could begin vaping, particularly with so many horror stories circulating about the possible effects.
First and foremost, as a parent, educate yourself about vaping, vaping injuries and the ongoing effects of vaping.
The more you can educate yourself, the more you can share this information with your teen.
You should also know how to look for the signs of vaping in your teen, so if you do spot these red flags you can intervene early on.
If you suspect your teen is vaping, you may need to schedule an appointment with their health care provider to start going over the risks and help come up with a game plan so that your teen can stop the habit before it becomes more problematic.