Graham King, M.D.
Family Medicine, Prenatal Care, Primary Care
Vaping is the term often used to describe the use of an electronic nicotine delivery system, or ENDS, including electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, vape pens or vaporizers. These battery-operated devices heat a liquid solution — usually, but not always, containing nicotine — to turn it into a vapor that can be inhaled. If the base nicotine mixture isn't palatable, flavors like mint, apple and cotton candy, can be added that make vaping attractive, especially to adolescents. E-cigarettes can resemble a pen or USB flash drive, and may be disposable after one use or have rechargeable systems.
Unfortunately, today's teens, and even tweens, know more about vaping than their parents. First publicized as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco, vaping caught on because it didn't contain the carcinogens or tars found in most smoking tobacco products. Also, vaping was supposed to eliminate the dangers of secondhand smoke to those nearby.
It all sounded pretty harmless in theory. However, those theories were wrong.
Here are the dangers associated with vaping:
No matter the delivery method, nicotine is addictive.
Studies have shown that it may be harder to quit a nicotine addiction than a heroin addiction. Most discussions about helping teens stop vaping fail to address that they already may be addicted. In many cases, teens at this phase may a need replacement option or medications, such as bupropion, to help curb the nicotine cravings that can be overwhelming.
If you've ever tried to quit smoking or had friends or family members try to quit, you know how difficult it can be. That's why, in certain situations, e-cigarettes still are considered an option to help someone who has smoked tobacco for years to become a nonsmoker.
The flavors and stabilizers in e-cigarettes can cause unknown inflammation to delicate lung tissue.
All one has to do is turn on the national news to hear about more and more teens who suffered severe — sometimes irreversible — damage to the lungs, and in extreme cases have died as a result of vaping. Adolescents often believe that bad things happen to everyone else, but the risks associated with vaping are real.
Many teens are taking vaping a step further, adding cannabis, CBD oils and other dangerous additives. When patients go to the emergency department in respiratory distress from vaping, it's challenging for healthcare professionals to treat them due to the difficulty in correctly identifying what they inhaled, especially when they are intubated or unconscious.
The length of time spent vaping can be much longer than smoking a standard cigarette.
Did you know that it takes two to five minutes to smoke most cigarettes? On the other hand, e-cigarettes can last up to 20 minutes, delivering more nicotine and damaging chemicals to the lungs. In addition, some vaping mixtures can contain 20 times the nicotine in a single cigarette.
Brain development can be affected.
Nicotine can affect concentration, learning, memory and brain development, according to information and data from a new report from the surgeon general. Also, nicotine use in young adults can still lead to other illicit substance use.
People under 21 can't buy tobacco products, including vape products, under federal law.
Talk about the dangers of vaping
Talk with your kids about the dangers of vaping, but also look for warning signs including:
- Changes in emotions or new behaviors like secrecy
- Dry cough or wheezing
- Scents of fruity odors on skin, breath and clothes
- Strange cylinders, chargers or batteries lying around
- Trouble sleeping
Remember, it's essential to have conversations rather than suspicions and accusations. Encourage your teen to look into the warnings and media stories related to vaping or contact their healthcare team with questions.
Many healthcare professionals ask their patients about alcohol, drug use and smoking, yet forget to ask about vaping. Project for Teens is an example of a local outreach program that provides support and education on the dangers of vaping. Similar programs may be available in your area. Find resources to help teens quit through the American Lung Association and teen.smokefree.gov.
It's up to everyone to work together as a community to stop the young population from starting or continuing to use vaping products.