Vaping is not harmless. That’s the message the U.S. Surgeon General wants to get across with a recent warning that teen vaping has become a health epidemic.
E-cigarettes are devices that vaporize liquids. The devices hold chemicals and flavors, including kid-friendly flavors like types of candy and fruit. And most contain liquid nicotine. The user inhales the vaporized mist.
They’ve become very popular with young people. Vaping by high school students grew 78 percent between 2017 and 2018. In 2018, 1 in 5 high school students used e-cigarettes. And vaping by middle school students increased by 50 percent during the same period.
But many young people don’t know the risks they’re taking, according to Yale Medicine. They don’t think vaping is harmful, even though e-cigarettes contain nicotine, the same addictive drug that’s in regular cigarettes. Studies show that most teens have no idea what’s in e-cigarettes.
To make matters worse, once they start using the products, some reports suggest they may also be more likely to smoke regular cigarettes.
Sales of e-cigarettes began in 2007. Since 2014, they have been the most common tobacco product used by U.S. youth, while their use of traditional cigarettes has declined.
Although e-cigarettes aren’t as harmful as regular cigarettes, they are far from harmless. “Any e-cigarette use among young people is unsafe, even if they do not progress to future cigarette smoking,” says the Surgeon General.
E-cigarettes look high tech, so some teens don’t even think of them as cigarettes. They come in many shapes and sizes that don’t look like traditional cigarettes, and they’re easy to hide. Some look like a USB flash drive or other small shape. And they don’t burn, they have little smoke, and they don’t have a strong smell. Some teens even use the gadgets during classes without teachers noticing.
Many teens use one trendy device called JUUL (pronounced “jewel”), says the report from the Surgeon General. One cartridge for the device has as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers facts on the dangers of JUUL and other e-cigarettes.
Nicotine is a strongly addictive substance. Using it at a younger age makes it more likely someone will become addicted to it. That’s because use at a young age changes the brain. And nicotine has been shown to harm the growing adolescent brain. It can cause learning, memory and attention problems.
Nicotine also has other health risks. It affects the brain, nervous system and heart. It can raise blood pressure and heart rate. A large dose can cause an abnormal heart rate. After nicotine wears off, the body starts to crave it. Users say they feel tired, angry or sad. Over time, nicotine use can lead to serious health problems, including stomach ulcers and blood clots.
Parents Can Help
Parents can play a vital role in helping stop the epidemic by:
- Learning about the many types and shapes of e-cigarettes.
- Talking to your kids about the dangers of vaping and being open to their questions.
- Having your child’s doctor talk to them about the danger.
- Learning about tobacco-free rules at school.
- Not using tobacco products yourself.
- Banning tobacco from your home and car.
If you want to help your teen stop vaping, TeensHealth suggests using the same steps for quitting e-cigarettes as for stopping tobacco use. Encourage your teen to try these tips:
- Plan to stop. Set a date.
- Put off giving in. When you have a craving, telling yourself to wait is easier than telling yourself no.
- Write down why you want to quit. You’ll have more money, you will feel better and so on. Remember these reasons when you have a craving.
- Ask for help. Support can make a difference. There are even online support groups.
- Be easy on yourself. Give yourself praise each time you skip using the e-cigs.
Help your teens stop before they start.
You can help your teen avoid using e-cigarettes. Many teens don’t even know they’re harmful, so start by talking to your kids about the dangers. Start the discussion young; 1 in 20 middle school students has already started vaping. And be sure to set a good example by avoiding e-cigarettes and tobacco products yourself. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a detailed tip sheet to help.
Sources: The E-cigarette Epidemic Among Youth, U.S. Surgeon General, 2018; Researchers Explore Health Effects of E-Cigarettes, U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2018; Your Teen Is Underestimating the Health Risks of Vaping, Yale Medicine, 2018; JUULING: Get the Facts, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2018; Vaping: What You Need to Know, TeensHealth.org, 2019; Quick Facts on the Risks of E-Cigarettes for Kids, Teens and Young Adults, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018