According to the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, 1 in 5 high school students reported vaping in the past month. With ample advertising geared toward teens and young adults, the availability of brightly colored vape pens and thousands of flavors to choose from, the expectation is that this trend will continue.
To help counter-balance the manipulative and deceptive messages and misinformation being directed at teens, parents should be prepared to answer the big questions about vaping.
Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol that is produced by an electronic vapor device when it heats up its liquid ingredients. Because of the rise in popularity of JUUL, currently the most popular brand of vaping device, many teens and young adults use the term “JUULING” (pronounced jeweling), instead of vaping, when referring to the use of these products. Other names for vaping devices include electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vape pens, vapes and tank systems.
Nicotine doses in vaping products can range from 2mg/ml to more than 59mg/ml, and some companies are engaging in “a nicotine arms race,” trying to raise the dose to levels that exceed those found in traditional cigarettes or competing vapes. JUULs currently contain 59mg/ml of nicotine in each pod in the United States — an amount equal to about 1-2 packs of cigarettes.
Vaping products come in thousands of tasty, unmistakably child-friendly flavors, many with fun and enticing names. The flavors help mask the harsh taste of nicotine and other chemicals contained in the e-liquid, making it easier to inhale the aerosol. Sweet, fun flavors like gummy bear and cotton candy often remind teens of happy childhood experiences, making them feel harmless. Recent crackdowns on flavors by the federal, state and local governments have begun to shift the landscape of preferred vaping products among youth. Now that flavors, aside from menthol and tobacco, are generally banned in refillable cartridge-based devices like JUUL, loopholes in regulations are driving kids to flavored disposable vapes that have even higher nicotine content and come in countless enticing flavors.
The aerosol, which many teens believe is harmless water vapor, actually consists of many chemicals, heavy metals, and fine particles — many of which are toxic and dangerous — that seep deep into the lungs and bloodstream when vaping.
Increasingly, marijuana ingredients are found in vaping products, including THC — the psychoactive compound in marijuana that creates a sense of being high — the leaf form of marijuana, and CBD. Vapes have also been used to inhale other substances.
It is now widely recognized that vaping is unhealthy and dangerous, even if it might not be quite as unhealthy and dangerous as smoking conventional, combustible cigarettes.
The more immediate health effects include coughing and wheezing, behavioral and mood changes, headaches, seizures, vomiting and potential severe lung injury. Vaping also negatively affects teens’ attention, learning, mood and impulse control in a way that can affect them in school, sports and social situations.
Nearly all vaping products contain nicotine, in many cases as much as or more than in traditional cigarettes. Nicotine negatively affects the cardiovascular system (increasing heart rate and blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke), respiratory/lung functioning (including inflammation, asthma and wheezing) and reproductive organs. It also is one of the most addictive substances around. People who vape can quickly become addicted and are at increased risk of starting to smoke cigarettes or use other addictive products. Ingesting high doses of nicotine can lead to nicotine toxicity, which in severe cases can give rise to seizures as well as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivation, dizziness, respiratory failure, coma and paralysis.
The other ingredients in vaping products, including the flavorings, are harmful as well. Most contain cancer-causing and other toxic chemicals, heavy metals and ultrafine particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and cause lung damage, cell damage and reduced immunity to infections.
Most vapes are discreet, easy to hide and generally seen as cool and relatively harmless. They come in thousands of tasty flavors that help cover the harsh taste of the chemicals and override the sense that these products might be harmful. They also produce a brief positive sensation or ‘head rush’ that some people like.
Most also have very high doses of nicotine, which can rapidly make those who vape develop an addiction or become dependent on the product. Some young people are also drawn to the “vape tricks” and “cloud competitions,” where they form cloud-like shapes or patterns when exhaling the vape’s aerosol. These tricks are usually performed with modifiable devices, or ‘mod’ style vapes. People will breathe aerosol deep into their lungs and then exhale it through their ears, eyes or nose.
Teens say they vape for many reasons. Curiosity is one, and peer pressure is another. They see friends or family members vaping and they are drawn to the appealing flavors. For others, it’s to do vape tricks. Some also say they do it because they feel it is less harmful than other tobacco products and it’s also discreet. Increasingly, teens report that they are vaping because they are hooked and can’t quit.