Updated: November 2018
The most important thing to understand as a parent is that not all vaping is created equal.
If you don’t know the difference between an e-cigarette, vape pen, or a Juul and you’ve never heard the term “dripping,” you’re not alone. But it may concern you to know that most teenagers do.
Vaping is all the rage in the U.S., especially with teens. The CDC reports that while fewer teenagers are smoking traditional cigarettes, many are instead opting to vape.
According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey released by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use was up 78 percent among high school students and 48 percent among middle-school students from 2017 to 2018. The total number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose to 3.6 million, an increase of 1.5 million students.
The rising trend of vaping is one that many teen parents are familiar with. Either they’ve heard their child talk about it or their teen has admitted to trying it. After all, according to many teens, “It doesn’t contain any nicotine at all so it’s completely safe.” But, is it? The most important thing to understand as a parent is that not all vaping is created equal.
What Are Electronic Cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes, also commonly referred to as e-cigs, e-hookah pens, vapes, vape pens, Juuls and mods (customizable, more powerful vaporizers), are battery-operated, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) used to inhale an aerosol, which contains e-juice also known as e-liquid.
The e-juice in e-cigarettes can contain varying amounts of nicotine ranging from zero to upwards of 36 milligrams per milliliter and contains 5 major ingredients: Water, Vegetable Glycerin (the base that makes up 80% – 90% of the e-juice), Propylene Glycol (mixed with the Vegetable Glycerin as the base for the e-juice – “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA), Flavor (which makes up 10% – 20% of the e-juice) and, oftentimes, nicotine of varying strength.
E-cigs come in many forms. They can resemble traditional tobacco cigarettes, cigars, pipes and even normal everyday items including pens and, gaining in popularity due to its discreteness, USB memory sticks, which are called Juuls. The explosive use of Juuls among teenagers has health experts and parents alike extremely concerned due to the device’s high nicotine content. Each Juul pod contains 5% nicotine, the equivalent of 1 pack of cigarettes or 200 puffs. (Image: Juuls, the vaping device teens are getting hooked on.)
How Does an E-Cigarette Work?
There are more than 450 e-cigarette brands on the market today and they all operate in a similar fashion.
They have four different components: a cartridge (which holds the e-juice), heating element (also known as an atomizer), a battery power source, and a mouthpiece. When the person puffs on the e-cigarette it activates the battery-powered heating device which then vaporizes the liquid allowing the user to inhale the aerosol or “vaper.”
Why the Fascination with Teens?
Ask a group of high school kids and they’ll tell you, “Vaping is not only fun, it’s cool.”
Aside from the cool factor, a big draw for teens is the huge variety of e-juice flavors available on the market including such flavors as Gummi Bear, Berry Lush, Frozen Lime Drop and Watermelon Wave, to name a few. Many teens are also intrigued by the vape tricks they can do with the vapor – all with enticing names such as “Dragon,” “The Waterfall,” “Vapour Bubble,” and “The Tornado.” And, for teens interested in learning these tricks, YouTube offers plenty of “how-to” videos.
Plus, vaping is relatively affordable. A vape starter kit can be bought online for under $30. Despite regulations that state that you must be 18 years old to purchase a vape pen or e-juice, it doesn’t seem to be stopping teens. Most importantly, teens are likely to use, or at least try, e-cigarettes because they’re convinced it’s completely safe. Interestingly, however, the National Institute for Drug Abuse took a poll of teenagers and found that many teens didn’t know exactly what they were inhaling. In the poll, 66% thought it was just flavoring, 13.7% had no idea, 13.2% thought it was nicotine, 5.8% thought it was marijuana and another 1.3% said “other.”
What Regulations Are In Place To Protect Our Children?
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, under FDA regulations designed to protect the health of young Americans, minors can not buy e-cigarettes in stores or online. Additionally, the FDA regulates the manufacture, import, packaging, labeling, advertising, promotion, sale, and distribution of e-cigarettes.
However, despite regulations put in place to protect youth, teens continue to find clever ways to purchase vape devices and e-juice. In fact, according to information provided by the California Department of Public Health, 94 percent of the time, minors are purchasing vaping products online.
With the variety of tempting e-juice flavors serving as a huge draw for teenagers, as of November 2018 Juul Labs, under enforcement by the FDA, will discontinue sales of its mango, fruit, creme and cucumber-flavored e-liquid pods at more than 90,000 retail stores. The company said it will also require additional age verification measures for online sales of the flavors.
What Are The Health Risks Associated with E-Cigarettes with Nicotine?
While many studies suggest that the use of e-cigarettes is less harmful than cigarettes when people who regularly smoke switch to them as a replacement, nicotine in any form is a highly addictive drug. As far as teens are concerned, vaping with nicotine can pose even greater threats. The teen years are critical to brain development which continues into adulthood. Teens who vape are putting themselves at risk for long-term effects. Because nicotine impacts the development of the brain’s reward system, vaping over a long period of time can not only lead to addiction of nicotine, but it can also make drugs including Cocaine or Methamphetamine more pleasurable to a teen’s brain.
What About the Nicotine-Free E-Cigarettes – Are They Safe?
Most teens are under the impression that it’s completely safe to inhale the “harmless nicotine-free water vapers,” but recent emerging studies claim otherwise.
Studies have shown that the chemical found in e-cigarette liquid, flavorings and aerosols are simply unsafe. According to the FDA, inhalation of diacetyl and acetyl propionyl, a flavoring agent found in some, not all, e-cigarettes, is known to be associated with respiratory disease.
In fact, the American Lung Association claims that when inhaled, diacetyl causes bronchiolitis obliterans, commonly referred to as “popcorn lung” – a scarring of the tiny air sacs in the lungs resulting in the thickening and narrowing of airways. It doesn’t sound very threatening, but in actuality, popcorn lung mirrors the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with symptoms of wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Currently, there isn’t a standard regarding the safety level for the inhalation of diacetyl via vaping.
On a side note, The European Union’s Medicine’s and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency released its “draft guidance” report for e-juice manufacturing, and Diacetyl tops the list of officially banned substances.
Vape pens and other e-cigarette devices are incredibly easy to conceal. Unless a parent knows what they’re looking for, they may not realize that their child even owns one.
Image credit: Lindsay Fox at ecigarettereviewed.com
In another study, they reviewed 40 different types of refill liquids and found toxic levels regardless of nicotine content. Interestingly, the toxicity of e-liquids varied greatly, but one study found that cinnamon flavored e-cigarettes have the highest health risk.
Another article released in April 2017 entitled, “Concerns Explode Over New Health Risks of Vaping,” by Science News for Students states that the impact of vaping on our teens is more profound than we originally thought. The vapors impact the immune system causing some teen vapers to end up with smokers cough and sometimes even bloody sores in their mouth. Plus, a relatively new vaping trend that’s causing serious concern is called “dripping” which involves manually dropping e-cigarette liquid directly onto the hot coils of the vaping device to produce a more flavorful, thicker smoke and a stronger hit. One in four high school teens who use e-cigarettes have admitted to trying this potentially dangerous new vaping method.
Can an E-Cigarette Be Used for Marijuana?
Yes. In fact, officials claim e-cigarettes can be used to vaporize marijuana, opiates, and synthetic substances. When a teen uses an e-cigarette for marijuana, hash oil can be substituted for the nicotine solution. Some vendors sell hash oil in cartridges, but with the proliferation of information on the Internet, kids are also learning how to make it on their own. And, plenty of YouTube “how-to” videos are available to teach those interested in learning. Plus, inhaling marijuana from a vape pen actually intensifies the user’s high. Higher levels of THC, the active compound in marijuana that gives the sensation of being high, are often found in the liquids used for vape pens which can pack a powerful punch leading to increased chance of addiction and enhanced side effects.
Additional Points to Ponder:
- 3 million U.S. adolescents currently use e-cigarettes
- Boys are twice as likely to vape as girls
- Teens who vape are 30.7% more likely to begin smoking within 6 months as opposed to the non-vaper at 8.1%
- 7 out of 10 teens (including middle and high schoolers) have been exposed to e-cigarette advertising including retail ads, television, movies, Internet, newspapers, and magazines
- Vape pens and other e-cigarette devices are incredibly easy to conceal. Unless a parent knows what they’re looking for, they may not realize that their child even owns one
- Most kids are not aware that all Juul pods contain nicotine
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Resources for this post include: The National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, USA Today, Science for New Students, Your Teen for Parents and CNN