Vaping and E-cigarettes
A new Surgeon General report released in December 2016 notes that 1 in 6 high school students used e-cigarettes within the last month. Put another way, in a high school English class of 18-25 students, 3 or 4 (on average) are “current e-cigarette users.” Vaping e-cigarettes has become the most commonly used form of tobacco by adolescents.
What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are devices that turn liquids into vapor, hence the term vaping. Another name is Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS). The appeal to adolescents is not surprising. There are flavors to make it ”taste” better. There is a false perception of safety. A user can vape other liquids too, such as alcohol and marijuana substitutes. Perhaps scariest of all is regulation of accessibility and marketing lagged behind availability to adolescents for years. An adolescent who could not legally purchase cigarettes could legally purchase e-cigarettes until 2016.
What do parents need to know about vaping?
- E-cigarettes don’t look or smell like cigarettes. Therefore it may be harder to tell if your child is using them. In fact, the flavor is the most appealing factor at first. A survey in 2015 showed that more than 80% of adolescents who vape do so because “they come in flavors I like.” Unfortunately, the nicotine from e-cigarettes is addictive like that from cigarettes.
- Due to Big Tobacco-esque marketing efforts, vaping has become the new ”cool” thing to do. Adolescents see vaping in movies, on TV shows, in commercials, in digital ads on favorite websites and social media, and in print ads in favorite magazines.
- Vaping has been marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes due to the lack of tar, and perceived less effect on the lungs. It has also been marketed to help individuals stop smoking cigarettes. E-cigarettes, though, have thousands of chemicals like regular cigarettes. The vaporization process creates other chemicals like carbon monoxide that are harmful to the lungs. Additionally, the nicotine in liquid tobacco for vaping is addictive all the same.
- E-cigarettes are the new “gateway drug.” For decades data have shown adolescents are far more likely to try illicit drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth if they already smoke cigarettes. Emerging data show e-cigarettes are likely to have the same relationship.
- Talk to your adolescents if they are becoming more reclusive, more secretive, or less hungry than usual (nicotine side effect). Ask them what they’ve heard about vaping or if they know of people/friends at school who vape. Don’t broach the subject in an accusatory manner. Seek to have an open dialogue about it.
What do teenagers need to know about vaping?
- Liquid nicotine is just as addictive as the nicotine in cigarettes. Nicotine is consistently ranked as one of the most addictive, if not the most addictive, substances on earth. Trying it once can get you hooked.
- Vaping is bad for your lungs. You may not get tar deposits like you would with cigarettes, but liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can harm lungs too. Carbon monoxide is inhaled while vaping, as well as many of the thousands of chemicals (>4,000 in fact) in tobacco products besides nicotine. This is especially important for athletes, who will notice a decrease in their endurance, speed and power when they compete.
- Nicotine changes your brain too. The wiring and chemical connections in your brain are still developing into your 20’s. Nicotine prevents the wiring and chemical connections from forming normally. This increases your risk for:
- Addiction (to nicotine as well as other substances such as alcohol, drugs and medications)
- Anxiety and/or Depression
- School struggles (decreased ability to get and stay focused in class and while studying)
- Poor decision making (decreased impulse control)
1. Singh T, Arrazola RA, Corey CG, et al. Tobacco use among middle and high school students—United States, 2011-2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65(14):361-367.
2. Ambrose BK, Day HR, Rostron B, et al. Flavored tobacco product use among US youth aged 12-17 years, 2013-2014. JAMA. 2015;314(17):1871-1873.