Teens are known for taking risks. The latest one: vaping, or the use of electronic cigarettes. And although teens might think it's no big deal, vaping can seriously impact their health. This dangerous new trend is quickly hooking the next generation on nicotine.
E-cigarettes – also called e-cigs, Juuls and vape pens – are battery-powered devices that heat liquid concoctions to create an inhalable vapor. They're becoming so common, it's likely your teen or their friends have tried them. In the last year alone, 78 percent more high school students started using e-cigarettes. Now, one in five high-school teens is vaping.
Why Are E-Cigarettes So Popular With Teens?
What's contributing to their skyrocketing popularity?
- Teens think vaping is harmless: Many teens consider e-cigarettes safe because they don't contain tobacco or emit secondhand smoke, although they do give off a mist. Even worse, many parents think vaping isn't as harmful to their child's health.
- E-cigs taste great: Kids are attracted to the sweet flavorings. There are hundreds of flavor options – such as cotton candy, gummy bear and strawberry milk.
- They look innocent: Many companies, such as the popular Juul brand, package e-cigarettes to resemble a pen or a flash drive, making it less likely that parents and teachers will notice it.
- They're cheap: E-cigarettes can also be cheaper per use than tobacco cigarettes.
- E-cigarettes (used to be) unregulated: Up until a few years ago, anyone could purchase e-cigarettes, including minors. Since they didn't contain tobacco, they weren't regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). But recently, the FDA started regulating e-cigarettes and made it illegal to sell them to a person under the age of 18.
How Does Vaping Affect Health?
Originally e-cigarettes were marketed as tools to help people break their tobacco habit. However, there's little scientific research to substantiate that claim. E-cigarettes are loaded with just as much, or sometimes much more, addiction-forming nicotine as well as other toxic substances.
You might be surprised to know that nicotine is just as addictive as heroin. Dependence on it is especially dangerous for adolescent brains, which are still developing.
Using nicotine impacts brain chemistry. It can potentially affect the parts of the brain responsible for the ability to focus and learn, make decisions and control impulses. Nicotine can also make teens more susceptible to other addictions down the road and lead to smoking traditional cigarettes as well.
Because nicotine is highly addictive, it's hard for people to quit once they start using it. Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense cravings
- Anxiety and irritability
- Restlessness and difficulty concentrating
- Constipation or diarrhea
It's true that e-cigarettes don't have as many chemicals as traditional tobacco products, but that doesn't mean they're safe. They still contain ultrafine particles, which cause lung disease, and cancer-causing chemicals and metals like formaldehyde and lead.
"There is concern about the long-term effect of other compounds found in e-cigarettes, especially in regards to cancer since a number of these compounds are known potential carcinogens," said Faisal Khan, MD, Medical Director, Interventional Pulmonology and Endoscopy at Franciscan Health Indianapolis. “More and more data is coming out highlighting potential harms of these products.”
Additionally, the FDA announced in April that "a recent uptick in voluntary reports of adverse experiences with tobacco products that mentioned seizures occurring with e-cigarette use (e.g., vaping) signal a potential emerging safety issue." The organization is now investigating a potential link between use of e-cigarettes among youth and the potential of seizures.
How Can You Talk To Your Teen About Vaping?
Talk to your adolescent about the dangers of vaping. Start by engaging your child in a conversation, not lecturing. Try to get a feel for what's going on at your child's school or in their social circle. Answer their questions and troubleshoot social obstacles they may face in saying no to vaping.
Discussion points may include:
- Vaping is addictive: Nicotine creates an addiction that hooks you, which makes you dependent on the substance.
- Vaping is toxic: Talk about the types of toxic substances that are found in e-cigarettes.
- Vaping affects the brain: Teens may not realize how nicotine may permanently affect a developing brain.
- Your story: If you use nicotine products, talk about how you wish you never started or your struggle to stop.
For more talking points and answers to common teen questions, check out the U.S. Surgeon General's tip sheet on how to talk to your teen about e-cigarettes.
What Age Should You Talk To Your Child About Vaping?
One in every 20 middle school students is already using e-cigarettes. So, having a discussion with your child before middle school is ideal. If you have older teens, it's not too late – talk to them about the dangers of vaping and how to avoid getting hooked.
"Studies have shown that teens who vape are more likely to transition into smoking regular cigarettes," Dr. Khan said. "There is also some recent data that in addition to picking up regular cigarette smoking as a habit, e-cigarette use increases adolescents' vulnerability to marijuana use."
Where Can Teens Get Help To Stop Vaping?
Quitting nicotine by yourself is difficult. Because it's an addiction, it involves not only getting over the physical withdrawal symptoms but also changing behavior.
Your teen may benefit from a smoking or tobacco cessation program, which offers individual and group support. Ask your teen's doctor for a local recommendation or learn more about the tobacco cessation programs at Franciscan Health.