Smoking is no longer as commonplace as it used to be. Many people attribute it to laws that ban smoking in public places and various initiatives to help smokers kick the habit. One invention aimed at helping adults quit is the e-cigarette. Using one has become known as vaping. Advertised as the safer way to smoke, this product has now caught the attention of teenagers worldwide.
E-cigarettes and vaping are one of the primary paths to nicotine exposure among teens. The rise of vaping in this age group is causing great concern. Teen e-cigarette use doubled between 2017 and 2019, with as many as 1 in 4 high school students found to be vaping. Worryingly, only 14% of teens think that vaping could be bad for their health, and up to 25% don’t even realize that vaping involves ingesting nicotine.
What is vaping?
Vaping is the inhalation of aerosolized liquids produced by e-cigarettes. These liquids contain many chemicals, very often nicotine as well. Originally, e-cigs were intended to help adult smokers who have trouble quitting transition to a “healthier” alternative.
Their mass advertising as safer than traditional cigarettes has led to the rise of vaping among teens, who are also enticed by the enormous variety of available flavors. Unfortunately, vaping is addictive both chemically (due to the nicotine content) and behaviorally (through the physical habit of vaping). Equally concerning is the fact that a teen who vapes is also more likely to start smoking cigarettes later in life.
Is vape a drug? Not per se, but the liquid used in vaping often contains nicotine (the addictive chemical found in cigarettes). There’s also a rise in marijuana vaping, with one study finding that 20% of 12-grade high school vapers using marijuana vaping products.
The dangers of vaping
The chemicals found in vaping liquids have been associated with severe lung damage and, more recently, with an increased risk of a COVID-19 infection. As already mentioned, a teen who starts vaping is three times more likely to become a smoker later in life or to experiment with other substances, including marijuana and alcohol.
Here are some of the main dangers and side effects associated with vaping:
- High levels of nicotine lead to teen vaping addiction.
- Adolescent brains are more susceptible to addiction, increasing the likelihood of teenagers turning to other addictive substances.
- Vaping can lead to a decreased attention span and impair the ability to focus.
- When teens don’t use the product, they exhibit craving or withdrawal behaviors.
- Despite the lack of smoke, e-cigarette liquids still contain carcinogenic compounds, which can even be measured in the urine of vaping teens.
- Vaping can cause lung irritation similar to that seen in smokers and people with lung disease.
- The habit damages immune system cells.
- Vaping may result in an increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and circulation problems.
What does vaping do to your brain?
The impact of vaping on teenagers is particularly worrisome as the chemicals in e-cigarette liquids directly affect the developing adolescent brain. Nicotine, in particular, can interfere with memory and attention processing.
Additionally, nicotine essentially primes the adolescent brain to become hardwired for addiction and compulsive drug-seeking behavior. This is because nicotine releases endorphins that trigger the pleasure circuits of the brain, much like heroin does. Prolonged nicotine consumption programs the brain into addiction and withdrawal behavior, making it harder and harder for the person to quit.
How does vaping affect the lungs?
The long-term effects of vaping on the lungs are also a grave concern. Importantly, vaping without nicotine is just as dangerous. Many of the vaporized chemicals in e-liquids irritate and inflame the lungs and airways.
According to the CDC, there has been an increase in teenage vape-related lung illness, which has been directly linked to the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol found in vaping liquids. Flavoring agents like diacetyl and heavy metals found in e-liquids have also been associated with serious lung disease.
Vaping vs. smoking
Many e-cigarette companies tout their products as safer than traditional cigarettes, and many parents may see vaping as a way to keep their teens away from smoking. Vaping may be safer than traditional smoking in terms of inhaled chemicals and tar, but it doesn’t mean it is truly safe. While teen cigarette smoking has declined, teen vaping has been on the rise, leading to an increase in the number of teenagers with serious lung diseases.
Many companies may even be advertising the health benefits of vaping vs smoking, but these campaigns aim to convince adult smokers to embrace the “safer” alternative. However, such ads may also lead teens to think that vaping is a safe way to smoke. Hardly so: one of the above-mentioned studies found that a single vaping pod contained a similar amount of nicotine as an entire pack of traditional cigarettes.
How to tell if your teen is vaping
It may be hard to know if your teen is vaping unless you see them doing it. When a teenager smokes, it’s much easier to tell because of the lingering smell on their clothes. However, vaping liquids come in a vast array of flavors, making it easy to mistake the smell for other products or environmental scents.
So, smell alone is unlikely to tell you if your teenager is vaping. Here are some telltale signs that can help you determine:
- Strong fruit or candy-like smell
- Trouble breathing or participating in sports
- Unexplained coughing or throat clearing
- Increased thirst
- Mouth sores or nose bleeds
- Increased irritability or mood swings
- Vaping equipment, such as a vaping device or refill pods containing vape juice
Perhaps you think there’s no way your child can be exposed to vaping, but this happens to many teens at school or in their social circle. It’s also very common for teenagers to purchase vape supplies online, where it is easy to lie about their age and have the items delivered to their doorstep. These products can hide in plain sight, often looking like USB drives, pens, lighters, or other commonplace objects.
What to do if you find your teen is vaping
Ideally, prevention is the best strategy. Having strict household rules against tobacco use was found to be an effective way of preventing teenage smoking, reducing the chances of that happening by 20%-26%. The same theory is likely to apply to other tobacco-related products, including e-cigs.
Most kids will know someone at school who vapes, so it’s a good idea to sit down with your teen and have a chat about it. Try to keep the talk relaxed and informal, but feel free to share facts and information with them, including this article, to educate them on the long-term effects of vaping.
If you find that your teen is already vaping, try to keep in mind that it’s just as hard to quit vaping as it is to quit smoking. Harsh punishment for vaping is unlikely to help-if anything, it may prompt your child to hide the problem. Instead, you could contact your family doctor for a referral to youth counseling or addiction specialists, who can provide advice and medications to help treat the nicotine addiction.
There’s no doubt that vaping is bad for teens, and it has become a major health concern. Prevention and education are the best strategies for keeping adolescents away from vaping. If you find your teen is already addicted, offer them all the support they need and seek the help of specialists.
Do you have any experience with teenage vaping? How did you find out that your teen was vaping, and what tips can you offer to other parents to help them get their kids unhooked? Please share your stories with us in the comments below.