Is vaping bad? That’s a question that more and more parents are asking as youth vaping statistics show that the activity has become commonplace among adolescents.
Vaping is a word used for the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol created by a device made for this purpose. Many teenagers claim that vaping is no big deal, particularly when compared to smoking. But research shows the potential dangers of vaping. Moreover, parents and teens may not realize how e-cigarette companies manipulate the connection between vaping and social media.
Is Vaping Without Nicotine Safe?
Vaping is done with or without an addictive substance included in the vape mixture, also called e-liquid. By far, the two most common drug additives to e-liquids are nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarettes, and THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Although nicotine vapes are much more common, THC vapes are on the rise, particularly with the spread of marijanua legalization. Thus, parents often wonder whether vaping is a gateway drug that opens the door for kids to use and ultimately abuse cigarettes, marijuana, moke, and then harder drugs down the line.
The vast majority of e-liquids are made up of three basic ingredients; water, flavorings, and propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin base. Then addictive chemicals like nicotine or THC are added. Long-term studies on the health effects of vaping are few and far between. However, vaping could very well be harmful in ways that are yet unknown, particularly in regard to long-term pulmonary toxicity and cardiovascular disease.
A Look at Youth Vaping Statistics
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), teens are using vaping devices in record numbers. Every year, more and more adolescents are vaping.
The annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey offers a nationally representative sample of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders in schools nationwide. According to NIDA, the 2018 MTF survey results show a sharp rise in youth vaping.
Let’s take a closer look at the statistics:
- 3 percent of 12th graders report “any vaping” in 2018, compared to 27.8 percent in 2017
- 12th graders who say they vaped “just flavoring” increased to 25.7 percent in 2018 from 20.6 percent in 2017
- Vaping nicotine in the 30 days before the survey nearly doubled among 12th graders, from 11 percent in 2017 to 20.9 percent in 2018
- 11 percent of eighth graders claim to have vaped nicotine in the past year
- Marijuana vaping for 12th graders rose from 9.5 percent in 2017 to 13.1 percent.
Finally, for eighth and 10th graders, there is a significant jump in perceived availability of vaping devices and liquids. In fact, 45.7 percent and 66.6 percent, respectively, report that vaping devices are “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get.
Why Teens Vape
Research from the Centers for Disease Control reveals the top three reasons why middle and high school students smoke e-cigarettes:
- A friend or family member vapes (39 percent)
- Availability of appealing flavors, such as mint, candy, fruit, and chocolate (31 percent)
- Believing that vaping is less harmful than using tobacco in other forms, such as cigarettes (17 percent).
Smoking vs. Vaping: A New Gateway Drug?
The question is no longer just smoking vs. vaping or is vaping bad? Today, many experts consider vaping a gateway drug for teens that leads directly to smoking and drug use. Therefore, educational efforts are a priority, to prevent teens from vaping as a first step toward smoking cigarettes and then marijuana.
The connection between vaping and social media increases the likelihood of teen vaping by generating peer pressure. Once a habit or a behavior is trending—gaining exposure and building influence online—the pressure to try it increases. And teens are especially vulnerable to such pressure. When they see friends posting photos of themselves vaping, or using hashtags related to vaping, they’re more likely to try it.
“Teens are clearly attracted to the marketable technology and flavorings seen in vaping devices. However, it is urgent that teens understand the possible effects of vaping on overall health; the development of the teen brain; and the potential for addiction.”
—Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
The US Government vs. Vaping and Social Media
Like the infamous “Joe Camel” advertisements for cigarettes in the 1980s and ‘90s, the vaping industry is using cartoon characters and colorful promotional strategies to promote vaping to teens. A new USC study reveals that e-cigarette advertising aims to convince teens that vaping tastes good and enhances their ability to socialize.
Unlike in the old “Joe Camel” days, however, e-cigarettes are now advertised through the conjunction of vaping and social media. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates e-cigarettes, is taking steps to stop social media influencing by vaping companies. The FDA recently issued warning letters to several firms that sell flavored e-liquid products. The letters pointed out violations related to online posts by social media influencers on each company’s behalf. Moreover, the FDA recently launched a series of TV ads designed to educate kids about the dangers of using e-cigarettes.
In conclusion, parents and policymakers are working together to protect kids from vaping. In the words of Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, MD, “We cannot allow the next generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine. We will continue to work to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of America’s kids.”
Monitoring the Future Survey
Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2019 Aug; 201:109–114.
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2017 Aug; 26(8):1175–1191.
Weekly. 2018 Feb;67(6);196–200.