While panic-provoking terms such as “epidemic” tend to be thrown around quite flippantly these days, the FDA has the statistics necessary to explain why this activity has become such a growing concern.
Not only that, but one high school substance use counselor in Virginia said this could be the biggest substance use issue faced by teens today.
“I think this is going to be the health problem of the decade,” substance use counselor Milagros Vascones-Gatski told NBC News.
Current Teen Vaping Statistics
Pointing to results from the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey, the FDA reveals that e-cigarettes are the number-one tobacco product consumed by this demographic. Furthermore, this number appears to be on the rise.
For instance, in 2013, 4.5 percent of the high school students surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that they used e-cigarettes. Yet, by 2014, that number had increased to 13.4 percent and in 2015 it jumped again, this time to 16 percent. How does this compare to tobacco use in general?
Tobacco usage as a whole has actually decreased for both middle and high school students in recent years according to the tobacco survey. In 2011, 3.69 million high school students shared that they used some type of tobacco product, dropping to 2.95 million in 2017. Middle school students showed the same trend, decreasing from 870,000 in 2011 to 670,000 in 2017.
So, what makes these e-cigarette products—also known as hookahs, vapes, and mods—such a major issue for this younger generation?
While there are undoubtedly many reasons, the FDA places a majority of the blame on the vaping product manufacturers themselves for creating nicotine-containing items that are more appealing to teens.
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How Vaping Companies Target Teens
The FDA reports that 39 percent of teens say that one of the reasons they use these electronic devices is because family and/or friends use them too.
However, the second most reported excuse for vaping (at 31 percent) is their vast array of tempting flavors. Vaping product flavoring
Within the products of the top e-cigarette retailers listed by the FDA—JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen XL, Blu, and Logic account for 97 percent of all e-cigarettes sold—you’ll find e-cigarette “pods” and “cartridges” in flavor options such as:
- Berry (such as strawberry and blueberry)
- Apple cider
- Hazelnut cream
Many of these flavors are preferred by this age range, with five of the top 10 most desired hard candy flavors—cherry, melon, mint, apple, and strawberry—available as a pod or cartridge flavor option.
Teens also say cite accessibility as a reason why they got into vaping. These products are easier to get their hands on than some others on the market.
The FDA essentially confirmed this reason in its September news release, which revealed that it had issued warning letters to more than 1,300 vaping product retailers that illegally sold e-cigarette products to minors. Some of these retailers were actually issued fines for how easy it was for minors to access the products.
According to the FDA’s December 2017 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, you must be 21 years of age to purchase e-cigarettes. However, states are allowed to create more stringent laws if they wish, and some have. For instance, some have added additional restrictions regarding e-cigarette self-service displays.
However, other states have created laws that are less stringent. For example, Washington’s state legislature passed a law in 2016 enabling the purchase of vapor products to anyone 18 years old and older. So, how are kids getting their hands on these devices and e-liquids?
In addition to the stores selling illegally to minors, the Truth Initiative reports that 52 percent of users said they obtained them from a family member or friend. An additional 6 percent said that they bought theirs online (with 89 percent of transactions made by minors actually going through).
Some teens prefer to vape because they can do it discreetly. Case in point: the FDA recently sent 12 online retailers warning letters for “selling misleadingly labeled and/or advertised e-liquids resembling kid-friendly food products such as candy and cookies.” In fact, many e-cigarettes look nothing like a regular cigarette.
JUUL is probably best-known for this particular aspect as this brand of e-cigarette looks like a regular USB stick (though it can be customized with stickers, also known as “skins”). That’s why many kids call vaping “JUULing.” NBC News says that this brand’s sleek design and small, quickly dissipating vapor cloud makes this device “a nightmare for school administrators.”
Some are also refillable, which gives users the ability to play with flavors in any way they wish. Known more commonly as mods, these types of vapes can take any number of shapes. Some shapes include looking like a tin of mints, a video game controller, and even something as innocent as a little glass turtle.
Additional e-cigarette factors appealing to teens
The FDA’s 2017 survey also found that teens prefer vaping because it’s cheaper to do. That makes this habit more accessible than other forms of tobacco that may be more expensive and not quite as easy to obtain on a limited financial budget.
Some reported also being drawn to it because they’ve seen famous people use vapes, too. Ranker.com says that the long list of celebrities who vape include well-known names such as Lindsay Lohan, Katy Perry, Paris Hilton, Johnny Depp, Katherine Heigl, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Vaping And Nicotine Addiction In Teens
No matter the reason why teens start vaping in the first place, the biggest concern is that they can develop an addiction to the nicotine, which makes it more than a little difficult to quit.
In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that out of all of the smokers trying to drop this deadly habit in a given year, only around 6 percent succeed. For many, it takes repeated attempts to quit before becoming smoke-free for good.
The NIDA goes on to explain that nicotine is addictive because it causes a surge of endorphins in the brain, creating a “slight, brief euphoria.” Nicotine also increases the hormone dopamine—a neurotransmitter that affects the brain’s pleasure and reward centers—further reinforcing the nicotine habit.
Repeated use of nicotine can even change the brain’s circuitry, according to the NIDA. This is partially what makes quitting so hard because the brain becomes accustomed to a certain level of nicotine. And if the level drops at all, the user can experience withdrawal symptoms.
Medical News Today shares that these symptoms range from irritability and foul mood to difficulty concentrating and increases in anxiety, usually peaking after about three days of quitting. Some people even experience tremors, trouble sleeping, and digestive issues.
While many believe that e-cigarettes expose teenage users to lower amounts of nicotine than regular cigarettes, research has found otherwise. For instance, one study published in Tobacco Control reports that e-cigarette smokers can achieve nicotine levels comparable to tobacco cigarette smokers.
To make matters worse, a survey-based study of 808 high school students in Connecticut in the journal Pediatrics concluded that “e-cigarette use was associated with future cigarette use.”
With all this in mind, you may be wondering: how does vaping impact a teenager’s health?
How Vaping Affects Teen Health
In the FDA’s tobacco survey, roughly 17.1 percent of teens indicated that they don’t believe that electronic cigarettes are as harmful as other tobacco products. Are they right?
According to the NIDA, the answer is no.
In addition to the addictive nature of nicotine, there are other chemical ingredients in e-liquids that can enter the lungs and cause potential harm.
For instance, nickel is one of the ingredients noted by the NIDA as potentially being in electronic cigarette devices. The CDC reports that exposure to nickel can result in lung inflammation, allergic contact dermatitis, and sometimes even lung cancer. Additionally, when inhaled, approximately 20 to 35 percent of the nickel is retained and absorbed by the blood.
Another concern of special relevance for teens is the impact nicotine can have on the brain while it is still developing. Specifically of concern to the NIDA is the way this substance affects the brain’s reward system as it is growing, essentially altering it in a way that can make hardcore drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine more appealing.
Nicotine usage at a younger age can also negatively affect brain development in other key areas, some of which include:
- Impulse control
Vapes And “Dripping”
In February 2017, CNN reported that one in four teens are engaging in “dripping,” a process that involves placing vaping liquids directly on the e-cigarette’s heating coil. This provides the user with “thicker clouds of vapor, gives a stronger sensation in the throat and makes flavors taste better.”
CNN explains that dripping is a safety concern because the heat of the coils results in greater emission of certain chemicals in the e-liquids. Formaldehyde and acrolein are two such chemicals, and they’ve been connected to major health issues like cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (better known as COPD).
Plus, by handling the e-liquid more often, there is a higher risk of getting it on the skin where nicotine is rapidly absorbed or you may end up inhaling a toxic amount. Nicotine toxicity can lead to nausea, vomiting, increased blood pressure, abnormal heart rate, dizziness, headaches, hearing and vision changes, and more, according to Healthline.
Converting Vapes For Marijuana Use
Some teens are even converting vape devices so they can be used to vaporize marijuana. According to the Associated Press, 2.1 million teens in the United States admitted to doing this in order to get high. YouTube even offers videos that teach teens exactly what to do to transition their current e-cigarette device.
The NIDA reports that roughly 1 in 16 high school seniors use marijuana daily, a number which hasn’t changed much over the past five years. Usage among 8th graders hasn’t varied much either, dropping 0.7 percent, and the number of 10th graders using this drug has declined as well.
Perhaps most troubling to parents is that “perceptions of harm and disapproval around marijuana use continue to decrease” for students of all middle and high school grades, according to the NIDA. For instance, 29 percent of 12th graders feel that using marijuana regularly is a risk, a number that is roughly half what it was just two decades ago.
Signs Your Teen May Be Vaping
If teens can vape so discreetly, how do you know whether your child is using this type of product?
U.S. News & World Report says that some of the signs your child may be vaping include:
- Increased levels of thirst due to the dehydrating effects of vaping
- Nosebleeds, which is due to dehydration
- Craving foods higher in salt or spice thanks to “vaper’s tongue,” a condition that consists of reduced sensitivity to flavors
- Increased problems with acne
- Reduced caffeine consumption
- Developing inflammatory lung conditions such as pneumonia
U.S. News further states that if you find an unfamiliar device or parts such as “spare wires, cotton balls or small containers (‘pods’) that contain e-juice” around the house, on your child, or in the trash, it’s possible that your teen may be vaping.
Mig Vapor, a vaping product supplier, says that finding “unfamiliar batteries on the charger” maybe another sign as many vapes need to be regularly recharged. Smelling a different aroma, one that you don’t recognize, maybe an indicator as well since many vapes are flavored.
How To Help Your Teen Stop Vaping
If your teen is currently vaping, there are certain actions you can take to help them stop. According to the CDC, these actions include:
- Setting a good example by not vaping or smoking yourself
- Sharing the potential health effects of e-cigarettes and potentially making an appointment with your healthcare provider to help reinforce this, if necessary
- Connecting your child with resources that can help him or her quit, such as Smokefreeteen
The CDC also provides a tip sheet parents can use when talking to their teens about e-cigarettes. It includes recommendations such as:
- Getting the facts beforehand
- Finding the right time to talk
- Answering your child’s questions in very distinct ways