Electronic cigarettes have gained popularity, especially among teens. The latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Centers for Disease Control shows more than 60 percent of students will try vaping by 12th grade and 35 percent of 12th graders have vaped in the past month.
According to the CDC, Colorado leads the nation in youth vaping (26 percent of youths vape in Colorado vs. 13.2 percent nationally). Colorado high school students vape at almost twice the national average. The alarming rise in youth use of vape has become such a concern that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently declared it an epidemic.
Vaping is defined as the act of inhaling a vaporized liquid from an electronic device. Many teens mistakenly believe that vaping is harmless, but there are many harmful and addictive ingredients in e-cigarettes. Vape products may include many different ingredients including nicotine, chemical additives, flavorings, and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
These various e-liquids are heated to create aerosol containing glycerol, propylene glycol (found in antifreeze products), nicotine and flavoring. A Harvard University study found that more than 75 percent of flavored e-cigarettes and e-liquid contained chemicals linked to severe respiratory disease. E-liquids are not FDA regulated, so there are no manufacturer standards. The Journal of Addiction Medicine found the amount of nicotine in e-liquid refills showed wide inconsistencies from the amount listed on the package.
One common vaping device is the JUUL, a slim cartridge that looks like a USB drive, which is targeted at youths who can easily buy them online. Twenty million JUULs are sold per month, making up 45 percent of the e-cigarette market. Each JUUL cartridge contains 50 mg. of nicotine — equivalent to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes.
Nicotine has a negative impact on adolescent brain development, which can cause problems with learning and memory, as well as long-term behavioral impairments including depression, anxiety and mood disorders. Other negative health effects include increased heartbeat (causing cardiac arrhythmia), acid reflux, insulin resistance, trouble breathing and lung damage.
Recent studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study showed strong associations between vaping and later cigarette smoking. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study on vaping, studying more than 6,000 youths, who were an average age of 13 years old, and found a fifth of teenagers smoked traditional cigarettes if they had vaped, compared to about 4 percent who did so with no prior tobacco use. The odds of ever smoking a cigarette were four times higher if the teenager used an e-cigarette as their first “tobacco product.”
E-cigarettes are new and constantly changing. That means the long-term consequences of these products just can’t be predicted. Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association and American Lung Association have urged the FDA to take immediate action and remove the JUUL e-cigarettes from the market. This hasn’t happened, so it’s essential that parents help kids understand the dangers of vaping. Talk to your teen about vaping, and ask them what they’ve seen and experienced with their peer groups.
As the American Medical Association and U.S. Surgeon general have expressed, the only way to prevent another generation from developing nicotine dependence is to continue to raise awareness that e-cigarettes are harmful, powerfully addictive, and can often lead young people to smoke conventional cigarettes.
The YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region has many programs for youths and teens that help them avoid these kinds of risky behaviors. For more information on vaping, please see tobaccofreeco.org.
Dr. Gloria Winters is a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in orthopedics and exercise physiology. She is the Chief Medical Officer for the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region with a focus on health care integration in the community. Contact Dr. Winters with questions or topic ideas at email@example.com.