Without FDA approval, e-cigarette manufacturers have consistently advertised their products as a smoking cessation aid. According to them, vaping is a more effective option that other nicotine delivery systems, and it’s much safer for the user as well as the environment. In no time, many advocacy groups joined the vaping promotion train and the ‘smoking cessation aid’ gradually evolved into a mainstream cigarette substitute.
While there may be enough evidence to suggest that vaping products can help people quit smoking, the jury is still out on whether it is worth the risk. Not to mention the recent vaping epidemic that has claimed 34 lives and left more than 1600 people hospitalized.
Even before the outbreak, the sudden rise in popularity of tobacco products among adolescents has been a worrying consequence of the vaping boom. Over the past few years, coordinated efforts have led to a decline in tobacco use among youths. However, all the gains are being lost with vaping, and it’s happening faster than we can catch up with. Although vaping may not be as harmful as cigarette smoking, there is no doubt it is still harmful enough to have everyone concerned.
Nicotine use has always been dangerous
No matter how pro-vaping groups try to promote its safety, vapers are still taking in nicotine; in outrageous amounts at that. JUULpod’s (one of the most popular e-cigarette brands out there) nicotine content is equivalent to one pack of cigarettes. If what we know about nicotine is anything to go by, everyone should be worried that teens are taking in large doses of such a dangerous drug.
Various studies have shown that nicotine from any source affects metabolism and could predispose frequent users to cancer or respiratory problems. Specifically, vapers have been found to have significantly higher levels of carcinogens in their urine samples.
A high potential for addiction
In addition to the physical risks, there is the ever-present risk of addiction. Nicotine remains one of the most addictive substances known to man; and while it's not responsible for killing most smokers, it remains the element that keeps them helplessly hooked to cigarettes. Comparatively, it makes it difficult for vapers to quit smoking e-cigarettes.
Admittedly, every kind of addiction is dangerous, especially for teens. However, nicotine addiction is one of the more problematic ones. Below are some of the known consequences of nicotine addiction in teens:
Because brain development is still ongoing, nicotine addiction can change brain cell activity in regions responsible for learning, attention, and memory.
Craving can cause fidgeting and irritability, ultimately affecting a teen’s ability to focus on tasks.
Nicotine addiction could remodel the brain and change the threshold for addiction to substances, making the teen more susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction.
Nicotine addiction can worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also lead to irritability, mood swings, and impulsivity.
Nicotine-induced changes to the adolescent’s brain can be permanent with the effects lasting long after the addiction has ceased.
Vaping can be a gateway for cigarette smoking
The consensus is that vaping presents a reduced risk of smoking-related disease when compared with cigarette smoking. However, it appears the gains made on this front could ultimately be lost because teen vapers have a higher tendency of picking up the smoking habit.
Studies have shown that e-cigarettes often serve as a gateway to regular cigarettes, especially for adolescents. One such study published in the Tobacco Control Journal revealed that recent vapers were more than four times more likely to perceive cigarettes as ‘not posing a great risk’. The authors concluded that “The results (of the study) contribute to the growing body of evidence supporting vaping as a one-way bridge to cigarette smoking among youth. Vaping as a risk factor for future smoking is a strong, scientifically-based rationale for restricting youth access to e-cigarettes.”
Expressing his concern about this growing menace, Michael Blaha, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins believes the social acceptability of vaping is to blame. It is not surprising that teens have a poor understanding of vaping and vaping products. The fact that they have consistently been advertised as ‘safer than cigarettes’ makes teens erroneously assume that they are perfectly safe. In Blaha’s words, “literature suggests that 2 million young adults use electronic cigarettes as their first nicotine-based product. They’re not trying to quit smoking- they’ve never smoked before… We might be causing the next smoking epidemic through young people getting addicted to electronic cigarettes early in life.”
The gateway effect partly explains why the FDA and other concerned agencies have prioritized getting e-cigarettes out of the hands of youths. After winning a long battle about who has the power to regulate vaping and vaping products, the FDA swiftly criminalized the sale of these products to underage individuals. There has also been a crackdown on what the agency refers to as ‘teen-friendly advertising’. However, there are questions about the enforcement of these regulations.
What do you do if your teen is vaping?
Given the high prevalence of vaping among teens, it is important to talk with your teen about the dangers of vaping. Even if you discover they are already vaping, having the talk, and having it often is still important. It is imperative to note that talking with them goes beyond threatening them or making them scared of e-cigarettes. It’s about presenting your points and giving them the room to present theirs. Get your facts straight and be convincing about why it is harmful for them in the long run. If your child is already displaying signs of nicotine addiction, you might need to enlist professional help to aid their recovery. Sites like Smokefree.gov also offer resources that may be useful.