Since e-cigarettes made their debut in the recent past, the number of nicotine users skyrocketed. Just in 2015, the Surgeon General reported that use among high school students had increased by a staggering 900 percent. What is even more shocking is that of those reported users, nearly half had not been regular users of tobacco products. It is undisputable that e-cigarettes are dangerous for our youth and anyone who is a non-smoker because of the nicotine delivered through e-cigarettes. So many people are picking up a new habit due to the belief that vaping, using e-cigarettes, is less harmful than using combustible tobacco products or chewing tobacco. E-cigarettes are also attractive because their cost per use is generally less than that of products like cigarettes and cigars. Plus, the ability to vape in flavors such as strawberry, pumpkin pie, caramel, or bubblegum has sense appeal. While e-cigarettes may help smokers kick the habit, our youth should avoid vaping altogether. Vaping among adolescents continues to grow in the United States, where they are more likely than adults to use the products. A study conducted in 2018 revealed that 4.9 % of middle school students and 20.8% of high schoolers reported vaping in the past 30 days. Today, more than 3.6 million students vape. This growing problem must be addressed with urgency.
What is Vaping?
E-cigarettes come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. The battery-powered devices are often charged using USB cables and power the device’s heating element. The heating element warms a tank containing the liquid for vaping. When in use, e-cigarettes produce an aerosol inhaled by the user which usually contains nicotine, flavoring, and other chemicals. At this point in time, it’s difficult to know exactly what those other chemicals are since manufacturers don’t have to disclose that to consumers. Certainly, there are fewer chemicals in them compared to the 7,000 that can be found in combustible cigarettes, but fewer doesn’t necessarily mean less harmful.
What Do They Contain?
It has been found that some of the aerosols contain nickel, tin, lead, and other heavy metals and volatile organic compounds like benzene that pose risks to users. Additionally, some aerosols have been known to contain cancer-causing chemicals, but with few studies having been administered on these products, little is known about their long-term effects on adults and adolescents. Even the flavorings used for vapes are questionable. Sometimes diacetyl is included for a buttery taste. While the stomach can process this chemical when it is present in food and alcohol, the lungs cannot handle it as well and serious lung disease is directly linked to it. Plus, when inhaling the aerosol, users are bringing ultrafine particles deep into their lungs.
At present, we know that nicotine is incredibly harmful for adolescents. When one uses a product containing nicotine, the nicotine raises blood pressure and causes a spike in adrenaline. The increase of adrenaline speeds up one’s heart rate and increases the likelihood for heart attack. When adolescents use nicotine regularly, they have these effects too, but they may also display other symptoms. Besides reporting changes in their mood, some youths have experienced an increased thirst and nosebleeds.
One imminent danger of nicotine is its ability to affect brain development in adolescents. Our brains are not fully developed until we reach our mid-20s. Nicotine can damage parts of the brain that regulate mood, control impulses, direct attention, and help one learn. Between cells, the brain builds synapses which are created when memories are made or new skills are learned. Nicotine changes the formation of the synapses which worries those concerned about adolescents since their synapses develop more quickly than those in adults. Some experts believe that this can make it easier for adolescents to develop nicotine addiction. This addiction can in turn lead one to begin using combustible tobacco products too. In fact, people are 30.7% more likely to become regular smokers just after six months of using e-cigarettes.
Education Can Help
It is due time we discuss the dangers of vaping with the adolescents in our lives. Education can be a powerful tool in vaping prevention and in inspiring one to quit the habit. Many students are not aware of the ingredients contained in their vapes. In fact, 66% believe that e-cigarettes only contain flavoring. Merely 13.2% were aware that they contained nicotine. Even when students say their e-cigarettes are nicotine-free, they cannot be certain. Some products marketed as being free of nicotine have been tested only to find that nicotine existed.
Resources are available at teen.smokefree.gov to help with conversations about the risks of vaping. Medical professionals can also help. Sometimes kids will heed warnings about harmful effects if they are explained by an expert. Nicotine cessation is one of the most difficult goals a person can reach. Adolescents need to know that they will have unbearable cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, their youth makes them vulnerable to peer pressure.
Anyone trying to kick the habit can benefit from counseling sessions during their journey towards a healthier lifestyle. Many nicotine users have found drug therapies helpful, but this option doesn’t yet exist for anyone under the age of 18. This may change following a recent public hearing held by the Food and Drug Administration.
Big changes will certainly come for e-cigarette manufacturers soon. In 2022, the FDA will be allowed to make many changes to the industry. First, they will be allowed to review each product before it is released to the market. The way manufacturers market the products could also change, perhaps becoming as stringent as those used for tobacco companies. The FDA will also be able to prohibit manufacturers from making any unauthorized claims about their product’s health and safety as well as the ability to help with smoking cessation. Flavors could even be banned by the FDA. In the meantime, it is our duty to help kids stay away from the dangerous vaping trend.