Q: “I’m hearing that vaping is becoming more popular than smoking traditional cigarettes and I think my daughter is doing it too. Is it safer than cigarettes? What signs should I look for and how should I talk with my daughter about this?” – Sarah from Peoria
A: While electronic cigarettes and vapes were invented as harm reduction and smoking cessation devices for adults, in recent years they have become increasingly popular with preteens and teens. In fact, in a one-year period between 2013 and 2014, use by youth tripled, according to research by the CDC and FDA. That increase has continued, recently leading the FDA to call the teen vaping situation in the U.S. an “epidemic.” Meanwhile, in recent years, teen use of traditional cigarettes has plummeted to the lowest levels seen since the early 1990’s.
Although e-cigarettes and vapes avoid some of the negative side effects seen with tobacco use, there are still some health concerns related to their use, especially for youth. The primary concern is that the liquid in many of these devices contains nicotine, which is not only an addictive substance, but also one that can have detrimental effects on the developing brains of adolescents. Among those effects are problems with memory, attention, and learning. Nicotine’s effect on the teen brain is far more significant than on the fully developed brain of an adult.
Also, whereas many adults have used these devices to quit smoking, preteens and teens are now often using them as their entry point into substance use. Some teens have progressed from using nicotine, to vaping “wax” or a concentrated form of THC, the active compound in marijuana most responsible for the “high” or euphoria from marijuana, but also the compound most responsible for marijuana’s negative effects on the developing brain of adolescents.
Additionally, short-term studies have found that vaping and e-cigarettes have the potential to cause lung damage. Research from Harvard, the University of Birmingham, the UNC School of Medicine, and other sources has indicated that vaping may damage the immune system and cause lung disease. While this damage currently appears to be less than that caused by cigarettes, the effects are nonetheless detrimental to young people.
A final concern is that there is no long-term research on vaping and e-cigarettes, due to the fact that the first commercially successful e-cigarette was just invented in 2003. While there are decades of research available on tobacco use, there is much less information available on the long-term effects of vaping and e-cigarettes. If an individual does not experience negative short-term effects from vaping, there is no guarantee they will not face long-term effects.
Signs and symptoms of vaping and e-cigarette use can include finding unexplained or unfamiliar electronic devices or vape parts, increased thirst, nosebleeds, unexplained smells, mood swings, suddenly avoiding caffeine, and testing positive for nicotine on a drug test.
Before talking with your teen, do some research and know your facts. When talking with them, ask what they already know. They may have already seen, heard, read, and experienced a lot, though some of the information they have may be incorrect. Be an active listener. The goal is to have a conversation, not to lecture the teen. However, be prepared to gently correct their misconceptions with research-based facts grounded in science and medicine. Explain the dangers of nicotine, especially to the developing brain, and in terms of nicotine’s addictive properties. Be clear and firm regarding your rules regarding use of any substances. Follow up with consequences if necessary. Most of all, always maintain a positive relationship and ongoing dialogue with your teen.
Shane Watson, Manager of Project REWIND at notMYkid. notMYkid’s mission is to empower and educate youth, families and communities with the knowledge and courage to identify and prevent negative youth behavior. Utilizing our peer-to-peer model, we provide prevention education focusing on such topics as substance abuse, bullying, body image, unhealthy relationships, internet safety and depression/self-injury/suicide. notMYkid is a Qualifying Charitable Organization through the Arizona Department of Revenue. You can make a tax credit donation up to $400 for single filers and up to $800 for married couples. According to the AZ Department of Revenue, donors are required to use a QCO code when taking the tax credit on income tax returns. notMYkid’s QCO code is 20724.