Teenage years are critical years. It’s the time when children have huge amounts of cognitive and emotional growth. And when they begin to have strong opinions and find new skills and interests. One of the more popular interests among some teens is the use of e-cigarettes, more commonly known as vaping.
The question is, how can something linked to names like “Gummi Bear” or “Banana Nut Bread” be harmful? Surely the idea of teens wanting to experiment is nothing new. But vaping and the possible harm it can cause is new – and undefined. So if you are the parent or guardian of a teen, you need to be aware of two things:
- The potential danger of chemicals used to create the flavors and vaping liquids.
- The effects of nicotine on the still-developing teen brain.
What is vaping?
Vaping is the act of breathing in a vapor through the mouth from a battery-powered device. The device (e-cigarette, pipe, cigar) has a metal coil that heats up and vaporizes a liquid (e-liquid).1 That same vapor is then exhaled.
What’s an e-cigarette?
An e-cigarette is a vaping product designed to replace flammable cigarettes. It usually has three parts:
- A base with a rechargeable battery.
- A liquid cartridge or tank.
- A heating unit inside the cartridge or tank.
The heating unit heats up the liquid in the cartridge, converts it to a vapor and is then inhaled.
What’s in the vape juice?
E-liquids come in both nicotine and nicotine-free forms. Nicotine or not, e-liquids also contain chemicals that have raised concerns about toxicity and the health risks of vaping. The vape juice is usually a mix of water and chemicals that include:
- Vegetable glycerin (a sugar-based alcohol in food).
- Propylene glycol (an alcohol used in antifreeze and as a food additive).
E-liquid flavoring is what comes into question here. Not all vape flavor makers fully disclose what’s in their e-liquids – even if they state their flavorings are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
To tangle the vaping web even more, there are no less than 15,000 flavors of vape juice on the market. Popular labels include “Black Mamba,” “Frozen Lime Drop,” “Rip Tide,” and “Swagger.” These names are what some say help make vaping attractive to kids.
In the world of teen vaping, disguise can be part of the game. While it can be said that most adult smokers looking to quit want a device similar to a cigarette. And because of this, many vape devices or “vapes” are small and discrete. Teens, on the other hand, like the fact that the small devices are easier to hide from adults. They can be deftly hidden within a teen’s everyday gear. Many vapes are designed as common items like vape pens or USB memory sticks.
The good news: It is illegal to sell vapes and e-liquid to minors.
Most online vendors can verify age through the credit card being used. However, parents need to continue to monitor any online purchase their teen makes. Be aware that teens can still find a way to buy these items from some online vape shops or websites without having to prove their age.
Effects of vaping
It appears that e-cigarettes are a means to reduce harm for cigarette smokers wanting to quit. There are studies that show the toxin levels in the body while vaping are below advised limits. These studies also suggest long-term harm seems unlikely.2 It’s important to note, however, that effects can vary not only from person to person but from product to product. And the main concern is that any concrete proof about the effects of vaping won’t be revealed until long-term scientific studies are finished.
The bottom line is that there is nothing completely safe about vaping – especially for teens.
Young brains on nicotine
Because teen brains are still growing, they are especially sensitive to nicotine. Young people who use nicotine products in any form, including vaping, are at risk for long-lasting effects.3
Nicotine affects the growth in areas of the brain that govern attention, learning, memory, and self-control. When used, nicotine avoids normal brain cell function and activates molecules like dopamine (the natural, feel-good brain chemical). Also, constant use of nicotine lowers the body’s natural ability to release these chemicals on its own. As a result, more and more nicotine is needed to trigger the buzz received from vaping. This could lead to nicotine addiction and a higher risk for lifelong addiction.4
Important: Not only can addiction to nicotine (and withdrawal) be highly intense for teens, it can make other, more dangerous drugs with more potent highs attractive.5
What you can do
Talk to your kids about vaping! Find out what they know. Answer their questions. Give them the facts about vaping and nicotine addiction.
Let your children know it’s your job to help them stay healthy and happy. Steering them away from vaping is your way of encouraging them to live a long and healthy life.
Will you be talking to your teen?