Vaping is a phenomenon that is greatly misunderstood by teens, parents, and school administrators. Teens think vaping is a safe alternative to smoking, parents need information, and school administrators are trying to create policies about vaping on school campuses.
The illusion of vaping is that it is a “safe” way to smoke. Regardless of what substances are in the vaper, the smoker is still putting a foreign substance into their lungs that could potentially cause damage, in both the short-term and the long-term. Teens, parents, and school administrators need to be educated on what vaping really is, what the vaping juices are made of, the risks and dangers of vaping, what the latest statistics are telling us about teen vaping, and how schools can educate children and parents.
What is Vaping
Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, produced by an e-cigarette or vaping device. These devices don’t produce tobacco smoke, but rather an aerosol, often misconstrued as water vapor, that actually consists of tiny particles. These particles contain toxic chemicals, which have been linked to respiratory disease, cancer, and heart disease.
Vaping devices include e-cigarettes, vape pens, and advanced personal vaporizers (aka MODS). Any vaping device consists of “a mouthpiece, a battery, a cartridge for containing the e-liquid or e-juice, and a heating component for the device that is powered by a battery. When the device is used, the battery heats up the heating component, which turns the contents of the e-liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs and then exhaled.”
The e-liquid contains flavoring, other chemicals, and metals, but not tobacco. Some people use vapes for THC or synthetic drugs like spice or flakka. The newest vaping product is the JUUL, a vaping device that resembles a USB flash drive. It’s easy to hide, which is why it has become popular with middle school students and high school students. JUUL liquids have many appealing flavors like fruit medley, crème brûlée, and mango. Regardless of the flavor, each JUUL liquid has a high dose of nicotine, with one pod or cartridge having the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes
Unfortunately, the marketing efforts for vaping are drawing in more and more teens and pre-teens. They don’t realize the vape juices contain toxic chemicals; they are drawn in by the sweet flavors.
Vape juice refers to the liquid put into a vape to make the vapor aerosol. Most juices are made up of five ingredients: water, flavor, propylene glycol (a food additive with a sweet taste), vegetable glycerin (colorless, odorless, unscented liquid from plants), and nicotine.
Vape juices are being shamelessly marketed to teens and children. Websites that sell the vaping juices are presenting all manner of options appealing to kids:
- Nicotine Salts
Most vaping juices offer their liquids in multiple nicotine strengths. These range from the nicotine-free zero mg up to 12 mg. While the zero mg juice may seem like a harmless alternative, that’s not necessarily the truth. These vape juices are still aerosols being inhaled by the lungs – and that is not healthy.
Nicotine salts, a very strong vape juice works in pod vapes. These create much less vapor than the other devices. Nic salts result in very harsh throat scratching and provide are generally unpleasant. However, the strength of the nicotine is appealing to teens who want to get the nicotine fix without tobacco.
As you can see, the world of vaping has nearly endless combinations of tastes, nicotine levels, and other variations to attract teens to vaping. What teens don’t know is that vaping has significant risks and dangers.
Vaping Risks and Dangers
Experts at John Hopkins Medicine have released information that clearly spells out the risks and dangers involved with vaping.
Vaping devices heat the flavorings and other chemicals to create a water vapor that is inhaled. “Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic.
However, there has also been an outbreak of lung injuries and deaths associated with vaping. As of Jan. 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 60 deaths in patients with e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury.” The CDC recommends that people not use any vaping devices or products, particularly those containing THC, nicotine, or other dangerous chemicals.
Current research suggests that vaping is indeed bad for your heart and lungs. Because
Nicotine is the primary agent in vaping, and it is highly addictive, it causes you to crave a smoke and suffer withdrawal symptoms if you don’t. Nicotine is also toxic. It raises your blood pressure and spikes your adrenaline, which increases heart rate and can lead to a heart attack.
Even with all we know, there are still many unknowns about vaping, including what chemicals could be hidden in the vapor and how they affect one’s physical health both short term and long term. Recently released data indicates links to chronic lung disease and asthma, when using vaping devices and smoking cigarettes, to cardiovascular disease. The bottom line is that vaping, with or without smoking, is a dangerous, unhealthy activity.
And don’t be fooled: vaping is just as addictive as smoking cigarettes. Both vaping juices and regular cigarettes contain nicotine, which research suggests may be as addictive as heroin and cocaine. What’s worse is that the vaping juices can contain even more nicotine than a tobacco product. People can buy extra-strength cartridges, with a higher concentration of nicotine.
And just like in the 1950s and 1960s, when smoking was cool, vaping is now what kids are flocking to.
Latest Stats on Teen Vaping
A new survey found a disturbing trend in the increase of the number of American teens who tried vaping in 2019. The study suggests that “vaping may be driving an increase in nicotine use for teens.” And if this is the case, we may start to see an increase in teen smoking or further increases in teen use of vaping with nicotine salts or high nicotine containing juices or cartridges. Even worse, vaping devices can also be used with cannabis, hash oil, or other street drugs.
Vaping health risks are avoidable – simply don’t start vaping. Exposure to nicotine during the teen years can lead to addiction and cause damage to teen brain development. The human brain does not fully mature until the early to mid-twenties, so teens who vape can do serious, long term damage to their brains. The vapor also contains toxins that have been correlated with causing cancer. But because vaping is being marketed as a “harmless” alternative, teens don’t see the risks.
“More than 44,000 students took part in the 2018 annual survey of drug, alcohol, and cigarette use in 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. About 37% of 12th graders reported vaping in 2018, compared with 28% in 2017. Vaping of each substance that was asked about increased. This includes nicotine, flavored liquids, marijuana, and hash oil.”
The last five years have seen incredible spikes in youth vape use rates. The Truth Initiative website gathered data from recent National Youth Tobacco Surveys and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys to demonstrate the problem and its exponential rise to a critical level.
- In 2017, 11% of high school students had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. By 2018, that number had risen to 21% and, by 2019, 27.5% of high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past month.
- Compared with the very small amount of youth use in 2011 (1.5%), this represents an increase of more than 1,800% in just eight years, with a substantial increase occurring between 2013 and 2015, when use rose from 4.5% to 16%, coinciding with the emergence of JUUL.
- The current use rate among middle schoolers rose from 0.6% in 2011 to 10.5% in 2019.
Starting a vaping habit has been linked to an increased likelihood of teens smoking cigarettes; this makes it possible that vaping is acting as a gateway to cigarettes and other nicotine products. According to recent studies, U.S. youths are more likely to try cigarettes and more likely to currently use cigarettes if they previously vaped.
Many teen vape users don’t realize what is in the products they are vaping. Studies tell us that 99% of all e-cigarette products sold at convenience stores, grocery stores, dollar stores, and other markets contain nicotine. In fact, a Truth Initiative study showed that nearly 67% of JUUL users between 15-21 didn’t know the product always contains nicotine.
There is also evidence that not only are there more teens vaping, they are vaping more frequently, meaning it’s becoming a habit. “The 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey data show that 34.2% of current high school e-cigarette users and 18.0% of current middle school e-cigarette users use e-cigarettes on 20 days or more per month and Monitoring the Future found that in 2019, 11.7% of high school seniors vape every day, suggesting that more users are becoming dependent on these products.” Teen vapers cite the unique flavors as a main reason they started using, second only to seeing friends or family members use.
Even though JUUL removed some flavors from stores in April 2019, research suggests that mint and menthol, both of which are still available, have continued to grow in popularity. The 2019 NYTS data show that mint and menthol vaping rose to 57.3% from 51.2% in 2018 among high school teens, suggesting they switched to these flavors after the other flavors were taken off the market.
A 2016 report from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey found that “44.3% of young adult current e-cigarette users were never smokers before trying e-cigarettes (vaping)”.
It is more than clear that teens in middle school and high school are not only trying vaping, but making it a habit. Parents and educators need to take steps to educate their communities about the dangers associated with vaping.
What the Schools can Do
As with other teen crises, like drinking and teen pregnancy, the schools can create and fund education programs to make both teens and parents aware of the dangers of vaping.
Educators and health experts are rightly concerned about the long-term effects of nicotine on teens’ developing brains. And in states where marijuana is now legal, they are concerned that students can access marijuana more easily and add it to their vaping routine. When the newest vaping devices that looked like flash drives came out, parents and educators were easily fooled. Now, educators are not as likely to be misled by the products as they were previously.
It’s important that schools, community centers, and other places where young people congregate during or after school have nicotine-free and tobacco-free policies. If such policies are already in place, students need to review the policies and know that they will be applied. Schools and community organizations can also lead by example and not take sponsorship from tobacco or nicotine related companies.
Teens are also more likely to listen if the adults in their lives, whom they have faith in and admire are willing to talk about the issue and also set a good example by not smoking or vaping. Teachers and administrators can also use health classes and school assemblies during the school year to invite students to ask questions about school policies and to get information about the dangers of vaping. There are prevention programs teachers can use in their classrooms available.
It’s also critical to give students who do vape and want to stop the resources they need to quit. Various resources are available, including a mobile app to help teens quit vaping.
It is clear that teens are using vaping as an alternative to smoking tobacco with the misunderstanding that it is safe. New vaping tools (like JUUL) are becoming easier to hide, and the manufacturers of vaping juice are marketing specifically to teens and young adults. Teachers and parents alike need to be on the lookout for new “flash drives” or other such stealthy vaping tools. We must educate one another if we hope to bring the teen vaping craze to an end.