In the past several years, the number of teens using e-cigarettes and vaping devices has soared. In fact, recent studies show that use by high school students is at a higher rate than adults.
Vaping vs. Smoking
We all know that cigarettes are harmful, but what about vaping? Even though the use of e-cigarettes has been touted as the “safer alternative” to smoking, it still involves the inhalation of an aerosol which is converted into a mist by a battery-operated e-cigarette or similar device. In addition to the vapor, the user also inhales toxic additives as well as the possibility of mold, fungus, and other pollutants that can build up in the device over time. While many teens are vaping enticingly sweet flavors, they often choose to add nicotine which is more addictive than heroin, morphine, and cocaine.
“Vaping is a very new phenomenon,” says Holly Kowalczk, a Registered Respiratory Therapist and Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist at St. Luke’s Tobacco Treatment Center. “The Ick Factor is gone as vaping is much more attractive than smoking. It will take 30, 40, 50 years to do a good longitudinal study to ascertain the risk of using these products.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of teenage smoking has been steadily decreasing to 11% in 2015. Yet a 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey reports that 1.7 million high school students have admitted they used a vaping device in the last thirty days. “Because vaping is less harsh, people inhale much more deeply than cigarette smokers, so they are inhaling inordinate amounts of toxins as well as nicotine,” Ms. Kowalczk explains.
No FDA regs yet
“They are exchanging one product for another, and what’s frightening about that is the nicotine in the products they are using is not monitored. The FDA has not exerted their authority even though they have the ability to do so. The tobacco lobby has convinced them that vaping products could be safer and more research needs to be done.”
While much is unknown about the effects of vaping, some facts are clear. “Even a drop or two of vaping liquid can be poisonous to a small child,” Ms. Kowalczk warns. “Accidental spills can be fatal because of the high levels of nicotine.”
Addicted to vaping
Vaping devices can be easily hidden in a pocket or sleeve and because the odor mimics sweet or pleasant scents, parents can’t always tell when their teen is using one. “I am not entirely sure of what to look for except the actual supplies and the different smells,” admits Lora Masserant, a mother of three teenage boys. “My son says his peers vape constantly. My nephew says he likes to do it because it calms him down and satisfies his sweet craving.”
Many teens believe that vaping is healthy because the packaging touts it as “all natural”. Yet the evidence is clear: many of the chemicals used to flavor e-liquid irritate the lungs and over time put the user’s health at risk. Studies have proven that teens who vape are more likely to become smokers later on in life. Sadly, a lot of teens who would have never smoked cigarettes are now using vaping devices and will become addicted to the nicotine.
Even more troubling is the fact that vaping has already evolved from nicotine to marijuana and the concentration of nicotine and cannabis has increased dramatically. Chronic use of these substances causes the brain to reduce the natural release of dopamine, the “feel good” transmitter so that increased amounts of nicotine or marijuana are needed to get the same response. This in turn leads to addiction. One study reported by Indra Cidambi, M.D. for the Center for Network Therapy reveals that 25% of teens who use e-cigarettes progressed to smoking pot, compared to the 12.5% of teens who did not.
Parent and school involvement
A local high school teacher reports that his students don’t think vaping should carry the same consequences as smoking cigarettes. “At my school, vaping is considered to be a tobacco product. Kids can get a ten-day suspension for having the products on campus, but there is a rollback if a student completes the cessation program.”
“Referrals [to my office] are up 400% in the last year,” Ms. Kowalczk reports. She says the best thing parents and teachers can do is to admit that vaping has become an epidemic. Learning about the health risks of using e-products is a vital step in being able to have open discussions with teenagers.
Lora Masserant says vaping is a hot topic in her household. “I had no idea it was so prevalent until I talked with my sons,” she says. “I feel that keeping an open dialogue is very important. Everyone thought smoking was okay and years later we are reaping the consequences. I feel vaping is the same way.”
In the end, although vaping is not as harmful as smoking cigarettes, the evidence so far has clearly shown that ‘safer’ is not the same thing as ‘safe’.
Clearing the Air: Facts about Vaping
-In order to purchase e-cigarettes and vaping products, you must be 18 years or older and have a valid photo ID.
-Vaping is not a proven method for smoking cessation, and is frequently used in addition to cigarettes, not in place of them.
-The nicotine used in vaping devices affects brain development and function in young people.
-E-cigarettes and vaping devices are not FDA approved, and there is no evidence that the aerosol from them is safe.
-The additives, heavy metals, ultrafine particles, and chemicals they contain include toxins and potential carcinogens.
-The use of vaping devices may be re-normalizing smoking behavior.
-Parents and teachers can contact Holly Kowalzck for more information about smoking/vaping cessation by calling 419-893-QUIT.
Talk to Your Teens
-Set a positive, tobacco-free example. If you smoke or use e-cigarette products, it’s never too late to quit. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov.
-Find credible information online at surgeongeneral.gov as studies are ongoing about the short and long-term effects of e-cigarettes.
-Start the conversation early. Kids as young as nine years old have been reportedly been trying vaping.
-Avoid criticism and keep an open dialogue with your child. Ask questions about their exposure to vaping via the internet, advertising, and friends.
-Connect your child with online resources and encourage him/her to research the effects of vaping for themselves, and be available to answer questions over time as the conversation continues. Livescience.com is an excellent resource.
-Be mindful or your child’s online activity. E-cigarette products are illegal to purchase under the age of 18, but online vendors don’t always ask for proof of age.