This Post: Teen Vaping Poses Serious Risk of Addiction: Here’s What Parents Should Know
Written By: Corinne Querrey
It’s not plastered all over the news the way it was in recent years and you won’t find quite as many articles about it on the internet. But make no mistake about it, vaping among teens is still a big concern of parents, school administrators, and The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to a 2022 article in U.S. News and World Report, more U.S. teens are becoming heavily addicted to vaping. So much so, that they’re vaping within 5 minutes of waking up in the morning, according to recent research. And, despite a drop in e-cigarette use among teens during the pandemic, we’re now seeing teen use rise to pre-pandemic levels.
Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital, Professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and senior study author found that in 2022, 2.5 million teens used e-cigarettes, with 27.6% using the devices daily – a sharp rise compared to 2.1 million teen users in 2021.
It turns out that the “feel good” nicotine habit so many teens have isn’t an easy habit to break and the tempting array of alluring vape flavors on the market certainly isn’t helping matters.
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Sheer Curiosity Lures Teens In
For a lot of teens, vaping is a fun (and seemingly harmless) way to get in touch with their rebellious spirit without reaping the consequences of traditional cigarettes. Clever marketing hacks, tempting flavor offerings, and verbiage such as “One Device, Infinite Possibilities,” are quietly drawing unsuspecting teens in. Plus, with social pressure from friends and viral YouTube and TikTok videos of kids showing cool vape tricks, it’s no wonder teenagers are curious.
Despite the fact that it’s illegal for retailers to sell vape products to any person under the age of 21 and the unmistakable disclaimer on the packaging of e-cigs that reads “Warning: this product contains nicotine,” many teen users are not only finding clever ways to get their hands on vape products, but they also seem oblivious to the damaging long-term effects nicotine has on their growing bodies.
The Evolution of Vape Products
E-cigarettes or “vapes” have come a long way. They first entered the U.S. market in 2006 as an alternative to traditional cigarettes and a means to quit smoking. First-generation e-cigarettes were coined “cigalikes” because they resembled the conventional cigarette but didn’t produce the same harmful tobacco smoke.
Through the years, second and third-generation vape products evolved with refillable cartridges, enhanced battery options, and more alluring flavors to tempt users. Today’s (fourth-generation) vapes now feature more inconspicuous, battery-operated, refillable devices that can deliver higher concentrations of nicotine.
JUUL, a popular go-to vape product for teens has become somewhat less popular due to the recent 2020 ban on flavors that targeted young users. However, there are plenty of other vape brands teens are turning to including Puff Bar, ELFBAR, Cuvie, Suorin, Vuse, and SMOK – many of which have flavors that cater to the teenage palate including, gummy bear, pina colada, watermelon, and mint.
How Does Vaping Work?
When teens use an e-cigarette, vape pen, or other electronic nicotine delivery system, it heats a liquid of nicotine, flavoring, propylene glycol, and other additives into an aerosol that they inhale through a mouthpiece and into their lungs. To the average teen, it seems rather harmless. Until that is, they become addicted.
Current Teen Vaping Statistics
According to a 2022 article in PBS News Hour, “The latest government study on teen vaping suggests there’s been little progress in keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of kids.”
Here are a few recent statistics issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with other agencies and addiction treatment centers:
- 2.55 million U.S. middle and high school students reported current (past 30 days) e-cigarette use in 2022, which includes 14.1% of high school students and 3.3% of middle school students.
- According to research by Truth Initiative, vaping among young people dropped amid the COVID-19 pandemic as young people reported less retail and social access to e-cigarettes. However, use among teens and young adults is on the rise again nearing pre-pandemic usage.
- Among youth who currently use e-cigarettes, more than one in four (27.6%) used them daily and more than four in 10 (42.3%) used them on 20 or more of the past 30 days.
- Nearly 85% of young users prefer flavored e-cigarettes.
- The most used vapes are disposable (55.3%), followed by vapes that take refillable pods (25.2%).
- Among youth who currently used e-cigarettes, 14.5% reported their usual brand was Puff Bar, followed by Vuse (12.5%), Hyde (5.5%), and SMOK (4.0%); more than one-fifth (21.8%) reported their usual brand was a brand other than the 13 listed in the survey.
- According to the American Heart Association, over 3,500 young people start vaping each day.
- According to MPower Wellness, a treatment center dedicated to helping people recover from addiction, 75% of young people who use e-cigarettes do it out of curiosity about tobacco products and the way they work.
- 29% of teenagers use vapes and e-cigarettes to make themselves feel high from the nicotine.
- 28.7% of teenagers use e-cigarettes out of pure boredom.
Nicotine Impact on Teen Health
The main concerns with vaping among teens are the impact nicotine has on a teen’s developing brain, (which continues to develop until age 25), the significant impact on physical health, and nicotine dependency.
According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nicotine harms the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. Additionally, nicotine dependence can result in depression, anxiety, poor school performance, insomnia, and lead to future drug use.
The “buzz” teens get from vaping only lasts about five minutes, warranting yet another “hit.” To combat short-lived highs, experienced users have naturally begun to inhale for longer amounts of time. But longer puffs mean higher concentrations of nicotine in the blood that closely resembles that of smoking a conventional cigarette.
EVALI: A Major Healthcare Risk for Teens
The vaping epidemic has created a new diagnosis in healthcare: E-cigarette or Vaping-use Associated Lung Injury, otherwise known as EVALI.
According to the CDC, in January 2020, EVALI was responsible for 2,668 hospitalizations and 68 deaths. 15% of those cases were patients under the age of 18, and 37% were between the ages of 18 and 24.
Symptoms of EVALI include chest pain, cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. The risk for these symptoms is even higher when inhaling other drugs like THC or additives like vitamin E acetate.
In addition to harmful lung effects, research has shown that teens who vape are twice as likely to suffer respiratory symptoms and they’re at increased risk for hypertension, high heart rate, and long-term cancer risk. There have also been reports that people who use e-cigarettes may also be at risk of developing a condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, sometimes referred to as wet lung, which is an inflammation of the lungs due to an allergic reaction to chemicals or dust.
Other Harmful Substances Found in E-Cigs
Aside from nicotine and propylene glycol, undesirable metals like tin, lead, nickel, chromium, manganese, and arsenic have also been found in vape pens (PubMed). Some sources also suggest various toxins are associated with specific flavors, such as cherry and cinnamon, which contain benzaldehyde and diacetyl, respectively.
Nicotine Withdrawl Symptoms
As many teens have found, quitting vaping isn’t easy. When the addicted body is not getting its fix, it goes into “withdrawal mode” marked by increased irritability, anxiety, and worry. Intense withdrawal symptoms can then affect teenagers’ attention, memory, and ability to learn and focus.
Advocating for Your Teen
If your teen vapes, or you suspect they are (or are becoming) addicted, here are a few helpful tips to educate them, help them avoid addiction, and provide them with the necessary professional treatment to kick the habit.
1. Talk About the Dangers of Vaping (Keep the Lines of Communication Open)
Most teenagers are painfully unaware of the full ramifications associated with vaping and the possibility of nicotine addiction. As opposed to lecturing them, provide them with straight-up facts.
Pass statistics, article links, and key dangers along to them so they can see and read for themselves what they’re up against when choosing to vape.
2. Talk About WHY They Vape and What’s Preventing Them from Stopping
Whether they’re vaping due to dependency or they’re vaping for weight control, depression, stress, or merely for fun, it’s important you learn the reasons why your teen vapes and why they may be hesitant (or unable) to stop. By calmly and openly giving them space to speak their mind on the subject, it opens the door for you to educate your teen and address misconceptions they may have.
3. Provide Powerful Motivators
Consider your kid’s passions and extracurricular activities. They’ve worked hard for a spot on the football team or a solo in the marching band. They are strong and independent. They don’t need a harmful device dictating their level of alertness or compromising their physical abilities. Remind them that vaping can greatly impact athletic, extracurricular, and academic performance. They may care more if they realize that vaping can have a profound impact on the things they love to do every day.
4. Talk About How Much $$$ They’re Wasting on Vape Products
The bottom line is, vaping is expensive. Sit down with your teen and do the math. If a single disposable vape costs about $30 and only lasts a week, your child could be spending upwards of $1,500 every year. That money could be going toward a car, shopping, fun activities with friends, or weekend hobbies. When your teen realizes how much money they’re wasting on vape products, it might be the motivation they need to stop.
5. Tap into Available Resources
Allen Carr’s Easy Ways to Stop Smoking dives into the deeper roots of addiction and offers helpful advice for teens as well as adults battling nicotine dependence. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Pink, Ashton Kutcher, and Jonah Hill report having stopped with the help of Carr’s book. Another great resource for parents is the CDC’s Parent Tip Sheet on how to start conversations with your kids about the risks of vaping.
6. Partner with a Healthcare Professional
Whether you suspect your teen is vaping occasionally or you have larger concerns that they may be nicotine dependent, it’s wise to reach out to your family healthcare provider or your teen’s pediatrician for information, insight, and guidance.
It’s also particularly important to alert your teen’s physician if they are currently taking any medications. If your child has diabetes or is taking oral contraceptives, for example, they are already at a higher risk for blood clots and should be screened for smoking and e-cigarette use, as nicotine can clog arteries over time.
It can be extremely concerning (and downright scary) knowing that your teen is doing something that can harm their health both short-term and long-term. Just remember, teen vaping poses a serious risk of addiction so it’s important to take it seriously if you discover your teen is vaping.
Knowledge is power, parents. The more information you have, the more you talk with professionals, and the more you take time to educate your teen, the better chance you’ll have to redirect them and place them on a healthier path.
Additional Resources for Parents
To better understand what vaping is, how vape products work, facts about e-cigarettes, and the health risks of vaping, here are a few additional resources worth reading:
Centers for Disease Control: Facts About E-Cigarettes, Health Effects & Risks
Stanford Medicine: The Tobacco Prevention Toolkit
NBC News: Teen Vaping Rates Rise, Nearing Pre-Pandemic Levels, CDC Reports
About Corinne Querrey:
Corinne Querrey, PA-S, graduated from the University of Arizona in 2020 with a B.S. in Physiology and two minors in Biochemistry and Health & Human Values. She currently attends Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN where she is pursuing a Physician Assistant Master’s Degree in Medicine. She is passionate about using her healthcare experience in Pediatrics, Emergency Medicine, and Behavioral Health to educate others through writing.
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