In the past 40 years, teens’ use of cigarettes has undergone a sharp decline, from nearly 30% of all high schools seniors smoking daily to about 4% today (we wish it were zero, but…) This trend has come about through a concerted effort to increase public health awareness and education on the dangers of cigarettes. When you ask teens about cigarettes, most will easily cite the downsides: the cancer-causing tar, the taste, the smell, the addictive force of the nicotine. They know what’s bad about cigarettes. But a more recent trend, commonly referred to as vaping, is replacing the cigarette as a significant cause for concern, mostly because the attitude about vaping – certainly among teens but among society as a whole – runs the gamut from “it’s totally safe” to “at least it’s better than smoking.” But like cigarettes, we have reason to be on high alert.
Vaping is the act of inhaling a vapor produced by an electronic vaporizer or e-cigarette. The vapor usually contains nicotine and other substances we’ll talk about in a minute. The liquids that are vaporized come in lots of different flavors, but mainly fruit flavors that are appealing to kids and somehow make it seem less harmful, almost benign.
Below I’ve listed 5 key things about vaping that every parent needs to know. I encourage you to learn more and talk with your kids about vaping to keep them educated, healthy and safe.
#1: Vaping is right under our noses.
In the most recent NIH survey on teen substance use, almost 36% of 12th graders and about 1 in 5 8th graders admit to “any vape” use in their lifetimes, but 16.6% of 12th graders also admit to vaping within the past month. The challenge with vaping is that it’s not always easy to spot. Some devices look like a thick pen, a stylus for an iPad, or a flash drive, blending in with common backpack items. They can also easily be hidden on a person – there are even clothes being manufactured specifically for the purpose of carrying and concealing vape devices. Vapes can be used quickly and often without detection, since very little odor is released with the quick puff of vapor, and the smell is often fruity, like gum or candy. Kids state they vape in their classrooms and many teachers often don’t even realize it. It’s possible your teen could be vaping in his/her bedroom – would you know?
There is some protection in that, like cigarettes, stores cannot sell vaping products to anyone under the age of 18, and many towns and cities in Massachusetts have further banned vaping for those under 21. However, teens report easily buying vape devices online or from older siblings or friends.
#2: Where there’s nicotine there’s addiction…and other problems.
While we know that nicotine is highly addictive, nicotine use can also harm the developing adolescent brain. The human brain continues to develop until age 25, and nicotine use during this critical period can disrupt the formation of brain circuits that control attention and learning, create long-lasting or permanent issues like mood disorders and reduced impulse control, and increase susceptibility to addiction throughout a person’s life.
#3: The trend within a trend is Juuling, and it’s made matters worse.
The Juul (a vape device that looks like a USB stick that you’d plug into your computer) has definitely become THE cool vape device among teens. Although the manufacturers of the Juul defend that their market focus is and has always been to help smokers quit their cigarette addiction (although the CDC states there is no evidence to support this link), the device has strong appeal among teenagers, from its sleek, stylish casing to the replaceable pods that come in eight different flavors like mango, mint, and crème brulee. What makes the Juul craze even more troubling for teens is that Juuls contain double the nicotine found in other e-cigs and are therefore highly addictive.
Despite recent actions by the FDA and others to address Juul use and e-cig use in total among teens, most of today’s reporting on the Juul reluctantly concludes that its popularity is still and will remain high for some time. Within the past month, two teenagers produced a video that’s getting some hype called “Juulers Against Juul,” in which they interview classmates about juuling. It might be helpful to watch if you want to talk with your teens about juuling but want to understand the allure and psychology better…and read the comments, as they are equally enlightening about the attitudes and myths surrounding vaping.
#4: There are some pretty bad chemicals mixed in.
Vape juice is not currently regulated by the FDA – therefore, we don’t always know what’s in it nor do we know the long-term effects of inhaling these chemicals. In addition to nicotine, however, e-cig testing has shown that they can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients including:
#5: You can vape LOTS of things.
In addition to nicotine, marijuana can be vaped, and with little fear of detection as the telltale smell is practically unnoticeable in vapor form. But the list of drugs that can be vaped is actually quite long and alarming – one website listed the following drugs that could be vaped: bath salts, Flakka, liquid THC (the drug in marijuana), hash oil, synthetic marijuana (spice or K2), and psychedelics like DMT. But other sites list an even longer and scarier list, stating that any drug that can be dissolved in vegetable glycerin can be vaped. Drugs that can be dissolved in glycerin include: Ecstasy, Molly (both MDA and MDMA), meth and other amphetamines, heroin, codeine, Percocet, Ritalin, Xanax, acid, mushrooms, or even just muscle relaxers or over-the-counter medications like cough syrup. Many of these drugs are outright dangerous in and of themselves; the rest can be very dangerous without proper regulation. Since it’s very difficult to gauge the dosage via a vape device, the risk of overdose from vaping these drugs is a huge concern.