A rapid rise in the number of middle and high school students who “vape” is occurring across the United States. What exactly is vaping? It’s the act of inhaling and exhaling the heated aerosol, or vapor, produced by an electronic cigarette, vape pen, mod or JUUL. The aerosol typically contains nicotine, appealing flavors, and other constituents that are harmful to adolescent and child health.
In 2018 over 1 in 5 high school seniors and 1 in 12 eighth graders vaped in the past month, as compared to a near-zero use in 2011.
E-cigarettes typically contain toxins and the chemical nicotine, which is quickly addictive to the adolescent brain and can harm adolescent brain development. In addition, exposure to secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes is harmful to growing lungs, and if the concentrated e-cigarette solution is swallowed or comes in contact with the skin, it can poison children or adults.
Teens may be unaware of the presence of nicotine in e-cigarettes. Some brands claiming to have no nicotine have been found to contain measureable amounts. The popular JUUL brand cartridge contains the same amount of nicotine in one cartridge as in a pack of cigarettes. E-cigs also often contain flavors with immense appeal to youth, such as bubble gum, fruit flavors, candy, coffee, piña colada, peppermint or chocolate. These flavorings in e-juice have not been shown to be safe for inhalation.
Children and youth are being exposed to e-cigarette advertising in the media, in magazines, online and on billboards. Many brands, such as the JUUL, resemble a sleek USB flash drive and are easy to conceal in a pocket and share with friends. Youth can take a puff in the bathroom, on the bus, or even in the classroom. There also are companies that make “wraps” or “skins” so users can personalize their e-cigarette.
A substantial number of adolescents who vape become addicted to nicotine and eventually transition to smoking traditional cigarettes. They are also more likely to use marijuana.
What can parents and family members do? Talk openly with your children and teens about the dangers of e-cigarettes. Ask what they know about vaping and JUULing. Do they have any friends who are doing this? Have they been offered or tried it? Help your children learn about the chemical nicotine and its addictive properties. A good place to learn more about e-cigs is healthychildren.org, the American Academy of Pediatrics website for families.
If you yourself smoke or vape, do not do so in the house or car. If you use e-cigarettes, keep e-cigs and liquid nicotine locked and out of reach of children. Talk with your doctor about safe ways to quit tobacco products or contact the SC Quitline at 1-800-784-8669 for help.
Blog author Lochrane Grant, MD, is a pediatrician with the Center for Pediatric Medicine at Prisma Health.
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