If you are the caregiver to a teen, there are two aspects of vaping that should concern you:
- The potential toxicity of the chemicals used to create the flavors and the liquids themselves.
- The effects of nicotine on the still-developing teen brain.
With flavors like “I Love Blue Raspberry Candy” and “Cinnamon Toast,” some teenagers are game when it comes to trying these flavored “juices” (e-liquids) which are available in both nicotine and nicotine-free forms.
But nicotine or not, e-liquids still contain chemicals and flavorings that have raised concerns about toxicity. There’s reason for concern about the health risks of vaping. At the very least, it’s a good idea to separate fact from fiction regarding vaping and kids.
What exactly is vaping?
Vaping is the act of inhaling a vapor through the mouth from a battery powered product containing a heating element (a metal coil) that heats up and vaporizes a liquid.1That same vapor is then exhaled through the mouth.
How does an e-cigarette work?
E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) are electronic vaping devices created to replace flammable cigarettes. They usually have three components—a base that contains a rechargeable battery, a liquid reservoir cartridge/tank that attaches to the base, and a heating element that resides inside the cartridge/tank. The heating element heats up the liquid in the cartridge to a high temperature in order to convert it to a vapor. The vapor can then be inhaled.
What is in the e-liquid?
The e-liquid in e-cigarettes usually contains water, vegetable glycerin (a sugar-based alcohol in food), propylene glycol (an alcohol that is used in antifreeze solutions and as a food additive), nicotine and “flavoring.”
The flavoring component of e-liquid can be mysterious. Not all manufacturers fully disclose what is in their e-liquid ingredients, even if they state their flavorings are approved by the FDA and are food grade.
E-liquid is marketed in a variety of sweet and fruity flavors, including Unicorn Milk, Kryptonite, Smurf Cake and Rocket Popsicle. In fact, there are more than 15,000 flavors on the market. This gives vaping a cool vibe and makes it alluring to teens and children (remember candy cigarettes?).
Can my child buy vaping devices?
It is now illegal to sell devices and e-liquid to a minor and most online vendors have methods to verify age. But, it is still possible for teens to purchase these items online from some websites, without real proof of age.
What are the effects of vaping?
Currently there are studies that suggest the measurable levels of toxins the body is exposed to while vaping (and breathing second-hand vapor) are below recommended limits and long-term harm seems unlikely.1 Effects can also vary not only from person to person, but from product to product. However, there will be no concrete evidence of the effects of vaping until long-term scientific studies are completed.
While it does appear that e-cigarettes are an improvement for current smokers who want to quit smoking regular cigarettes, there can be nothing completely safe about vaping – especially for teens.
The teen brain on nicotine
The teenage years are a critical time for physical growth. The brain itself experiences huge amounts of development for both cognitive and emotional functions. Teens begin to feel love for the first time, express strong, independent opinions and discover new skills, interests and abilities.
Nicotine directly affects the development of the areas of the brain that govern attention, learning, memory and inhibition control. When used, nicotine bypasses normal brain cell function and activates molecules like dopamine (the natural, feel-good brain chemical).
Repeated use of nicotine decreases the body’s natural ability to release these chemicals on their own. Thus, more and more nicotine is needed to activate the buzz received from vaping.
Because the teen brain is still growing, it is especially sensitive to nicotine. Addiction (and withdrawal) can be highly intense for teens. There could also be a higher risk for lifelong addiction.2
Furthermore, addiction to nicotine can make other, more dangerous drugs with more potent highs attractive to teens.3
What can I do?
Talk to your kids about vaping. Find out what they know. Answer their questions. Give them the facts about e-cigarettes and nicotine addiction.
Let them know as their parent or guardian, it’s your job to help them stay healthy and happy. Steering them away from e-cigarettes is your way of supporting them to live a long and healthy life.
After reading this article, will you be talking to your teen?
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