Since patented in 2007, e-cigarettes have become enormously popular with American adults, and unfortunately, with teenagers as well.
In January, 2019 the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, nearly doubled among high school students from 2017 to 2018, increasing the total number of students who vape by 1.5 million. In 2018, 20.8% of high school students reported using an e-cigarette in the last month, compared with 11.7% in 2017. Middle school student usage jumped from 3.3% to 4.9% over the same time period. Correspondingly, the 2016 to 2017 increase in sales reported by Juul Labs, Inc., the leading manufacturer of e-cigarettes, was 641%, up from 2.2 to 16.2 million devices annually.
The rates of tobacco and substance use among teens have been falling over recent years, so it is alarming and ironic that a device designed to help people quit smoking may be serving as a “gateway” to traditional cigarette smoking and substance use for American teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is unequivocal in declaring that the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for children, teens, and young adults. Most e-cigarettes, including Juuls, contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance that can disrupt normal brain development and create permanent changes linked to impulsivity and mood disorders. Brain development continues into the early to mid-20s, and during this period a teen’s brain is more vulnerable to nicotine addiction. Some studies have shown that e-cigarette susceptibility in youth appears to be a predictor of future e-cigarette and traditional cigarette use, as well as both alcohol and marijuana use.
Another significant risk factor is that e-cigarettes can expose the lungs to harmful substances other than nicotine, including formaldehyde and toxic metal particles. The CDC issued numerous health alerts in September 2019, citing 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use reported by 36 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These cases have increased the sense of urgency among lawmakers and public health officials to regulate and thereby limit the use of e-cigarettes by young people, especially the flavored brands that are especially popular with children.
Parents have an important role to play in discussing the risks associated with vaping:
• Familiarize yourself with the different types of e-products, and be aware that some emit very low amounts of “vapor” so they can be used very discretely. E-cigarettes are plastic or metal rods with battery-operated heating elements that come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can look like a flash drive, so they can be hard to spot.
• Correct teens’ beliefs that e-cigarettes are not dangerous, including that vapes are “nicotine free”; that “nicotine is not that bad for me”; that vapes include “just flavors” or “harmless water vapor” and are “not a gateway to regular cigarettes.” In fact, cartridges may contain as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes, and other chemicals that can harm lungs.
• Start the conversation early. Children also need to be aware of the harmful effects of vaping.
Resources & Sources:
Know the Risks, E-cigarettes and Young People https://ecigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/
• The Real Cost of Vaping (free resources for teachers) http://www.scholastic.com/youthvapingrisks/
• Quick Facts on the Risks of e-cigarettes for Kids, Teens and Young Adults https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/ecigar ettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-E-cigarettes-forKidsTeens-and-Young-Adults.html
• https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/infographics/youth/pdfs/ ecigarettes-usb-flash-508.pdf