Only a decade ago, teen vaping was rare, according to the Food and Drug Administration. While we’ve seen cigarette usage decline considerably among adolescents, over 25% of 12th graders reported they had vaped in the past year, according to the 2019 round of the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study.
What Exactly Is Vaping, and Why Are Teens Doing It?
“Vaping” is a term used for smoking an electronic cigarette or other similar device, such as a vaping “pen.” These devices heat a liquid into a vapor, then the vapor is inhaled into the lungs. The liquid contains nicotine, flavoring, and other chemicals. Vaping pens can also be used for marijuana and other drugs.
Originally, e-cigarettes were marketed as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking, with several studies showing that e-cigarettes seemed to be a slightly more effective step down from cigarettes than other common methods. But the majority of smokers who transitioned to vaping from cigarettes were still vaping a year later.
Is the rate of vaping continuing to rise among teens?
According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) conducted by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use has dropped by 1.8 million teen users between 2019 and 2020.
While the numbers have declined, the vaping rate is still about 20% among high school students. That means 1 in 5 teens have vaped in the past year. Almost 40% of these teens are vaping 20 or more days per month, with 22.5% reporting daily vaping, which is considered heavy usage.
Why are teens using vaping products?
Available products make vaping easy and fun for teens and young adults. For example, flavors such as candy, mint, and fruit appeal to teens. Also, vape pens are easy to use at school.
Originally, you could detect e-cigarettes because you could smell cotton candy or mint wafting through the halls. However, producers have found ways to maintain the flavors while minimizing the aroma. In addition, disposable vaping pens come pre-charged and loaded with vaping solutions, make them easier for teens to hide.
While the top two reasons teens vape is to experiment and because they like the novelty and flavor, they continue vaping because they’re getting hooked on nicotine, according to Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Are Teens Aware of the Potential Risks of Vaping?
According to the Monitoring the Future 2018 survey, many young people think vaping is safer than cigarettes, partially because 25.7% of teens who reported vaping believed they were only vaping flavors, not nicotine.
The NIH went on to report that the problem with this is there are no mainstream vaping products that are “just flavorings.” That means teens are stepping into nicotine addiction and the associated health risks and don’t even know it.
According to a U.S. surgeon general’s report, nicotine exposure can harm the developing adolescent brain, which continues to develop until age 25.
Aside from nicotine, there are over 60 chemical compounds in vaping solutions, according to Dr. Cassandra Simms, resident psychiatrist at Embark at The Forge, and more are created once those compounds are heated and inhaled. Some are chemicals known to cause cancer.
“When you heat the vaping liquid, you’re making an aerosol. In basic chemistry, you’re creating a chemical reaction,” Simms explained. “So just think of that being inhaled into our lungs and the danger that can cause. That’s what’s going into our bodies. Lung disease, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and even gum disease have been linked to vaping.”
According to the CDC, as of February 2020, over 2,800 people in the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands had been hospitalized or died due to e-cigarette or vaping use lung-associated injury (EVALI). But as with regular cigarettes, it may take decades to know the full extent of the damage these inhalants can do to people’s respiratory systems and the health care they’ll need as a result.
Do teens who use vaping devices end up engaging in other kinds of drug use?
For teens, vaping is a powerful gateway to other drugs. While e-cigarettes are promoted as helping adults break away from tobacco, teens who use them are four times as likely to start smoking cigarettes compared to nonvaping adolescents, according to a study using data from a Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study.
Adolescents ages 12-17 who vape are 4.3 times more likely to go on to use marijuana.
What Should a Parent Do if They Find Out Their Teen Is Vaping?
Teen vaping can be an easy habit for teens to fall into, with serious implications for long-term physical health. It’s therefore crucial to act when you learn your child is vaping.
First of all, realize your teen has been targeted and courted by e-cigarette companies like Juul Labs Inc. With the percentage of teens who don’t even realize their vaping pen contains nicotine and other harmful chemicals, they may have started vaping without knowing the consequences.
“Talk to your child, see what they have to say,” Simms said. “Discuss the potential harms of what they’re doing, as well as the fact that it’s illegal for teens.”
If you, as the parent, smoke or use e-cigarettes, prepare to address that issue in your discussion with your teen. Focus on how difficult it is to quit and the harm that’s present, and share that you don’t want them to be where you are in the future.
Simms recommended that if you already had clear family rules about vaping and smoking, revisit those and the consequences of breaking them. If you haven’t already determined the consequences, it’s time to decide what they will be.
Include your teen in the discussion. What do they think are appropriate consequences, if you haven’t already defined them? How can you work together to help your teen stop vaping? What will motivate them to stop and also prevent a relapse?
This will be an important discussion given teens can have difficulty quitting vaping since nicotine is addictive and they can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it. To help your child, explore some of the programs that exist to help teens quit vaping. This is Quitting is specific to teen vaping, while Smokefree Teen, the American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association all offer resources for parents and teens, although some are focused on helping teens quit cigarettes. These programs are immediately accessible, so don’t hesitate to start the conversation with your teen and discuss options with your family doctor.