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Tobacco use by teenagers has been a major concern for decades amongst health professionals, parents, schools, and governments. During the 1990s, as many as a quarter of all high school students smoked cigarettes or some form of tobacco product. The good news is that the rate of teen smoking is now down below 5%. The bad news is that most teens have made a switch – from smoking cigarettes to vaping.
Originally, e-cigarettes and vaping devices were marketed to help adults quit smoking. These products claimed to deliver nicotine with the benefit of removing the dangerous by-products of combustion. However, vaping is fast sweeping the nation, as popularity of the small, concealable devices have increased exponentially over the past few years. The devices can be used with just a flavored vape containing no nicotine, however most users prefer at least some nicotine content. Users can also purchase vape devices containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The safety of vaping among teens and others is a hotly debated topic. Illnesses and injuries have occurred directly related to vaping and vape products. The addition of marijuana to vaping products introduces a new level of concern as well. In this article, we’ll dive into the risks and concerns related to teen vaping.
What is vaping, and what's the big deal?
The term vaping comes from the vapor that a person inhales, often containing nicotine or THC. A small battery-powered coil heats a packet or pod of liquid, vaporizing it so that the user can inhale the substance. Devices can vary widely, from large hand-sized battery packs to small devices that resemble USB flash drives.
The vapor is typically flavored, and can contain various amounts of nicotine. Some devices provide a very potent dose of nicotine, causing users to become dependent very quickly. As with cigarettes, vape devices containing nicotine are highly addictive.
Other devices deliver a potent dose of THC, causing a nearly instant high. Some devices can be used producing little if any odor or noticable vapor, making them an ideal choice for students wishing to vape nicotine or THC during school hours, or hide their device from parents and teachers.
As with other nicotine products, the sale and use of vaping products by minors is illegal.
Isn't Vaping Safer than Smoking Cigarettes?
While vaping has been considered to be safer than smoking tobacco products, vaping nicotine is still highly addictive. Vaping has shown fewer illnesses and injuries than tobacco smoke, however vaping hasn’t been around long enough to study its long-term effects.
In the short term, there is still cause for concern. Many teens only have access to black market nicotine and THC vape products. Black market products have not been tested for safety, and have been found to contain dangerous chemicals that cause harm. The FDA reports that as of February 2020, 2,807 hospitalizations have occurred due to vaping-related lung injury with 68 confirmed deaths. Laboratory data shows that vitamin E acetate was the toxic additive in most of the injury and death cases.
For those using vaping products containing THC, the risks are twofold. First, THC vaping products are much more likely to contain vitamin E acetate, therefore more likely to cause lung injury and death. Second, vaping THC provides a stronger, and more concealable high than smoking marijuana.
Marijuana has been shown to cause lasting harm to teenage brains. Lasting effects include difficulty concentrating, reduced memory, and greater anxiety. Some studies have found that the long-term effects of marijuana are greater than tan teen alcohol use. And while its debatable that marijuana may be considered a gateway drug, studies have shown that teens who use marijuana are more likely to abuse and become addicted to other drugs.
What do we do to prevent teen vaping?
Teen and parental awareness is the first step. While we don’t ultimately know the long-term effects of vaping, we do know that it is highly addictive and unhealthy. Teens and parents should be aware that vaping isn’t safe or consequence-free.
Parents should feel free to have open and honest conversations with their teens about the dangers of vaping. Beyond vaping though, parents should be aware of the struggles and anxiety that their teens may be experiencing at school and in life. Teens who are vaping nicotine and THC products are very often experiencing emotions and anxiety that they are attempting to escape. An open conversation is a good start, but often professional counseling may be beneficial as well.
For those who have found that their teen is vaping THC or may be addicted to other drugs, Drew Horowitz & Associates can help. We provide services such as intervention, chemical assessments, and drug case management. Call us today at (800) 731-0854 or contact us through our website.
Teen Health Crisis: Vaping. Accessed February 2020.
Vaping popular among teens; opioid misuse at historic lows. December 14, 2017.
National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens: Marijuana. December 2019.