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Teen Vaping: What Parents Need To Know

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What Is Vaping?

Vaping is the process of inhaling vapor or steam produced when a battery-driven, fireless heating element heats a glycerin-based liquid. It may contain nicotine or legal levels of cannabidiol (CBD). As vaping does not require fire or doesn’t include actively burning a substance, many people believe that to be safer than regular cigarette smoking or the use of other tobacco products.

What Are Teens Vaping?

Electronic cigarettes, vape pens, and customizable personal vaporizers (“MODS”) are all different types of vaping devices, growing in popularity across demographics especially the youth. For the youth, however, it is proven particularly dangerous. Even if teens are not inhaling nicotine, flavored vape liquids can cause serious lung diseases, and the act of vaping can create a behavioral dependency that substantially increases the likelihood of future vaping or smoking.

The e-cigarette liquid or vapes contain a lot of nicotine. Getting addicted to nicotine can make it harder for teenagers to focus and concentrate. Vaping devices also contain chemicals that could cause cancer and serious lung diseases.

Many teenagers, and a good chunk of adults, believe that vaping nicotine is safer than regular smoking. This has been pushed by manufacturers of electronic cigarettes and vape pens to make enormous profits. Teams of designers market eye-catching devices that appeal to teenagers. The fact remains that vaping, even without nicotine or illicit drugs, has no positive health benefits and poses substantial risks.

Unlike a regular cigarette, an electronic cigarette doesn’t have a strong smell, so it’s much easier for kids to use in secret. Teens often think that vaping isn’t dangerous, and it’s easy for underage kids to buy vaping devices online. Additionally, vaping can make teenagers more likely to start smoking regular cigarettes.

Is Vaping Better than Smoking Cigarettes?

The short and direct answer is that vaping is not better than smoking cigarettes. Data from research suggests that vaping, even if nicotine or illicit drugs are not present in the vapor, puts teenagers at risk of future addictive behaviors. A recent study of college students found that e-cigarette use is also significantly associated with illicit drug use and mental health problems.

Moreover, contrary to what e-cigarette manufacturers would have the public believe, e-cigarettes are not associated with a decrease in nicotine use. Most smokers who used e-cigarettes in an attempt to quit smoking report that they end up smoking cigarettes and vaping nicotine. Thus, smoking to vaping side effects are likely to include increased — not decreased — nicotine use.

Vaping Health Risks

Side effects of vaping depend somewhat on the product being vaped. It is important to note that vaping is never safe and offers no positive health benefits.

  • Nicotine Addiction: Vaping nicotine has been conclusively shown to cause addiction, and even vaping flavored compounds without nicotine or illicit drugs have been linked to behavioral dependency.
  • Increased Likelihood of Smoking Cigarettes in Future: Studies indicate that teenagers who vape nicotine are significantly more likely to try other tobacco products, like regular cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, and smokeless tobacco.
  • Marijuana Addiction: E-cigarettes and vape pens have been significantly linked to marijuana use among adolescents and young adults.
  • Addiction to Illicit Drugs: Vape pens provide a sneaky way for teenagers to use dangerous drugs, including synthetic cannabinoids, cocaine, GHB, MDMA, and even heroin.
teen vaping

Dangers of Teen Vaping

The health risks of vaping are becoming increasingly clear over time and are eerily similar to the health risks of smoking. Nicotine use, particularly among teenagers, has incredibly negative short and long-term health implications.

Nicotine is profoundly addictive, and even tobacco-free nicotine has negative effects on the cardiovascular system. Daily use of e-cigarettes doubles the risk of heart attack, and when e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes are used concurrently, the risk is increased significantly.

For teenagers particularly, nicotine poses serious risks as it has been confirmed to affect brain development, with negative effects on the areas of the brain that regulate attention, learning, and impulse control. Teens who use nicotine are at substantially elevated risk for developing a lifelong nicotine addiction. This also paves way for future addiction.

Despite the common misconception that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking, a growing pile of evidence indicates that the long-term effects of vaping are incredibly detrimental to physical and mental health. Some effects are as such:

  • Impact on Brain Receptors: A great deal is known about nicotine and the brain, mostly from the research done on regular cigarettes. From what is known, Nicotine affects brain receptors for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh), which is crucial for processes ranging from muscle movement to memory formation. The result of nicotine use is that the brain thinks it has too much ACh and reduces its production of ACh. Nicotine also has potent effects on the dopamine system, which regulates the “reward pathway,” causing chemical changes in the brain that reinforce the “need” for more nicotine.
  • Diseases Caused By Vaping: A recent Harvard study found that more than 90% of flavored vape liquids had harmful levels of the flavoring chemical diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione. Inhalation of these chemicals is associated with the development of bronchiolitis obliterans, commonly known as Popcorn Lung, a debilitating disease that damages lung tissue and causes chronic cough and shortness of breath, and chronic pulmonary obstruction disorder (COPD).
  • Vaping and Cancer: Many vape pen and e-cigarette manufacturers tout their products as being safer than conventional cigarettes because there is no tobacco combustion, which is significantly linked to lung cancer development. Despite their claims, vaping (with or without nicotine) may result in inhalation of potential carcinogens, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), flavoring chemicals, and formaldehyde.

Is Vaping Addictive Without Nicotine?

Although the powerfully addictive properties of nicotine make e-cigarettes riskier than flavor-only vape pens, overwhelming evidence indicates that vape pens can instill behavioral dependency.

Moreover, the side effects of vaping without nicotine still include debilitating lung diseases (popcorn lung, COPD, and asthma) from aerosolized flavoring, inhalation of cancer-causing volatile organic compounds, deposition of heavy metals in the mouth and lungs, and inflammation that promotes lung fibrosis.

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Signs of Teen Vaping Addiction

Many teens vape openly, citing vague evidence that e-cigarettes and vape pens reduce cigarette use. This argument does not apply to individuals who have never had nicotine addictions, and most data does not support that e-cigarettes reduce smoking in nicotine-addicted adults. The bottom line is that vaping is never safe, and teenagers are at particularly high risk for long-term nicotine addiction and associated diseases and disorders.

Many teenagers hide their vaping from their parents. Signs your kid is vaping include:

  • Increased thirst: Vaping dehydrates the mouth and throat
  • “Vaper’s Tongue”: Vaping is associated with a loss of flavor perception, so vapers often add extra salt or spices to food
  • Reduced Caffeine Intake: Nicotine is a stimulant that, when combined with caffeine, can cause anxiety
  • Chronic Cough: Vaping (with or without nicotine) is irritating to lung tissue, which is why a serious complication of vape-induced cough is pneumonia
  • Unfamiliar USB Drives or Electronic Devices: Vape pens and e-cigarettes have capitalized on the popularity of electronic devices
  • Sweet Smells: Flavored vape liquid comes with names like “cotton candy,” “creme brulee” and “tutti frutti”
  • Secrecy/Paranoia: Teens who are hiding vaping from their parents may be especially resentful of perceived intrusions
  • Irritability: Vaping nicotine can quickly lead to dependence and addiction. Withdrawal symptoms often present as irritability and mood swings

What Can Parents Do To Help Teens Quit Vaping?

Support, don’t scold

Whether or not a child is thought to be using vaping devices, open up a dialogue with them. Be sure to talk about the health risks, because many young people still think they are safe.

Ask the child what they know about vaping and whether it’s happening at school. Help them think through how they’ll respond if they’re pressured to use vapes. And if you learn that the child is vaping, don’t try to punish or shame them it won’t work. Vaping can affect young people’s moods and impulse control, and your child may be already addicted to nicotine.

Be positive and arm them with information and the reasons for quitting. And if they want to stop, be encouraging. As with cigarettes, quitting vaping is hard. But there are tools, some of them designed specifically for young people, that can help.

Seek out tools and resources

Inspiration can also be found on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, where young people determined to quit are destroying their JUULs and other vaping products.

Some parents are also confronting the vaping epidemic by supporting policies that would take flavored vaping products off the market. More than three-quarters of parents of middle and high school students favor a ban on flavored e-cigarette sales, according to a recent Truth Initiative study that indicated overwhelming parental support for stricter tobacco control policies aimed at preventing youth tobacco use.