With flavors like mint, chocolate and fruit — and designs so sleek they can be mistaken for a thumb drive — electronic cigarettes have skyrocketed in popularity among teens.
And the statistics are alarming: One in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students have tried e-cigarettes, according to the surgeon general.
Since 2014, they’ve been the most popular tobacco product among that age group. Ad campaigns that appeal to teen groups have also contributed to the growing number of users.
While these ads portray e-cigarettes as harmless, the truth is they’re addictive, damaging to lungs and harmful for developing brains. Hospitalizations are steadily increasing for vapers, as well as the number of deaths tied to vaping.
What’s in an e-cigarette?
E-cigarettes use a battery to heat a liquid that creates an aerosol. The vaper inhales the smoky aerosol, which contains cancer-causing chemicals and:
- Flavoring that can cause serious lung disease
- Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead
- Nicotine, the addictive component in tobacco
- Ultrafine particles
Some vapers are also experimenting with THC, the main psychoactive element in marijuana.
What does vaping do to your lungs?
The harmful chemicals used to make vaping liquid can cause irreversible lung damage.
Vaping leads to wheezing, coughing and exacerbates asthma. And just like cigarette smoke, secondhand vaping also exposes those nearby to dangerous chemicals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 2,172 cases of lung injuries from e-cigarettes from 49 states (all except Alaska), the District of Columbia and one U.S. territory. Forty-two deaths have been confirmed in 24 states and the District of Columbia (as of Nov. 13, 2019).
Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain.
How does vaping harm the brain?
Until the age of 25, brains are still developing, particularly the part of the brain controlling decision making, memory, learning and impulse control.
E-cigarettes expose the brain to nicotine. In a developing brain, this can permanently alter the ability to control impulses.
Nicotine also interferes with brain synapses, which transmit messages. This affects parts of the brain that control attention and learning.
Additionally, addiction is considered a form of learning. When teens learn a new skill, more connections are built in the brain to remember that skill.
Young people's brains build synapses faster than adult brains. That’s why teens can become addicted to vaping more quickly than adults.
Known as a “gateway drug,” researchers have found that once teens are addicted to nicotine and e-cigarettes, they’re more susceptible to other harmful products. Teens who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes, use alcohol and try marijuana.
Vaping causes severe burns
Besides damaging lungs and the brain, vaping also can cause severe, disfiguring burns to the face, hands, arms and legs. Usually happening when e-cigarette batteries are being charged, defective e-cigarette batteries can cause fires and explosions.
Arm your teen with information
Since e-cigarettes are a relatively new product, researchers are still unsure of the long-term health effects.
But the science and medical communities have gathered enough information to conclude with certainty that vaping is a dangerous, addictive habit for teens. Share this information with your teen and keep the dialogue going.
For tips on how to help your teen quit vaping, visit smokefree.gov.
Tanner Medical Group,
Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine