The Facts About Teen Vaping and Vaping Health Risks

As the number of teenagers who vape continues to rise, new vaping health risks are emerging. Most recently, a vaping-related health crisis has resulted in hundreds of respiratory illnesses across the United States and at least six deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“We’re seeing young people with no other medical problems who come with coughing and shortness of breath, and when we do an X-ray and CT scan, we see signs of inflammation in both lungs,” said Dr. Humberto Choi, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. “The best advice I could give to anyone is to stop vaping altogether.”

What Is Vaping?

Vaping refers to the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, or vapor, created by a vaping device. A vaping device includes a mouthpiece, a battery, a heating component, and a cartridge that contains the e-liquid or e-juice. The e-liquid is a combination of nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. Vaping devices can also be used to vaporize THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, by replacing e-liquids with cannabis-infused oils.

The battery in a vaping device powers the heating component, which heats up the e-liquid, also known as vape juice. As a result, the device produces water vapor. Users inhale this vapor into their lungs.

Types of vaping devices include the following:

  • E-cigarettes, which resemble traditional cigarettes—also called e-cigs, hookah pens, vape pens, or ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems)
  • Advanced personal vaporizers (also known as “mods”), customized by the user
  • Vape pens, which look like large fountain pens.

 

 

Vaping Health Risks

The CDC is working with state and local health departments to investigate the recent outbreak of lung disease associated with vaping. As of September 2019, 380 cases of this lung illness had been reported, from 36 states and one US territory. Subjects in all the reported cases had a history of vaping.

However, other vaping health risks are better understood. Nicotine is the primary substance in both traditional and electronic cigarettes, and it has been shown to increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Along with nicotine, vaping liquids contain additives such as propylene glycol and glycerol. These toxic chemicals have been linked to cancer, respiratory disease, and heart disease. Scientists have also found that diacetyl, a chemical used to flavor some vape juice, may cause a condition called “popcorn lung,” the scarring and obstruction of the lungs’ smallest airways. In addition, a study found that some common chemicals used to flavor vape juice could damage endothelial cells. These are the cells that line blood vessels and lymph vessels.

Furthermore, experts believe that long-term exposure to the toxic substances in e-cigarette vapor, such as nickel, tin, lead, benzene and formaldehyde, could increase the risk of cancer. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found substantially increased levels of five carcinogenic compounds in the urine of teenagers who vape. Hence, increased likelihood of cancer may prove to be one of the most significant vaping health risks.

 

“People need to understand that e-cigarettes are potentially dangerous to your health. You’re exposing yourself to all kinds of chemicals that we don’t yet understand and that are probably not safe.”

—Michael Blaha, MD, MPH, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease

 

Short Term Side Effects of Vaping

Along with the long term side effects of vaping detailed above, there are also short term side effects of vaping for teens. These include the following vaping health risks:

  • Nicotine dependence, which can lead to disruptions in brain development and chemistry
  • Increase in shortness of breath, coughing, and fevers
  • Acid reflux
  • Higher likelihood of contracting lipoid pneumonia, which occurs when fatty substances are inhaled into the lungs.

 

Newport Academy Substance Abuse Resources: Vaping Health Risks

 

Vaping Myths vs. Vaping Facts

It can be hard to tell the difference between vaping facts and vaping myths, especially because research is sometimes contradictory. Here are some facts about vaping and vaping health risks.

Teens are more likely to vape than smoke. According to the most recent Monitoring the Future study, use of vaping nicotine has nearly doubled among high school seniors, increasing from 11 percent in 2017 to 20.9 percent in 2018. Vaping has also significantly increased among eighth and 10th graders. In contrast, only 3.6 percent of high school seniors reported smoking cigarettes daily, compared to 22.4 percent two decades ago. Moreover, teen marijuana vaping is also on the rise. THC vaping among 12th graders increased from 9.5 percent in 2017 to 13.1 percent in 2018.

Companies design packaging to enhance the appeal of vaping for teens. For example, vape cartridges are available in candy, fruit, and dessert flavors, like doughnut, cotton candy, apple pie, chocolate, cherry, “Belgian waffle,” “strawberry milk,” watermelon, bubble gum, etc. And labels of “vape sauce” resemble candy wrapper designs, like Jolly Ranchers and Blow Pops. In addition, companies promote vaping with campaigns that appeal to teens.

Vaping devices are easier to hide from parents than cigarettes. They don’t give off as much smoke as traditional cigarettes. Also, unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are odorless or have a sweet smell. Plus, vaping devices often resemble pens or thumb drives, so it’s easier for teens to use them without getting caught.

Vaping primes the brain for more drug use and addiction. Vaping makes it more likely that teens will begin using other drugs besides nicotine. One study showed that 25 percent of teenagers who use e-cigarettes progressed to smoking marijuana.

Vaping may lead to teen risky behavior. Surveys show that e-cigarette use is associated with high-risk behaviors among high school students. Researchers found that injury, violence, substance use, and sexual activity were more likely among vapers.

 

Vaping, Cigarettes, and Nicotine Addiction

Multiple studies show that teen vaping leads to cigarette smoking. One study followed 2,500 ninth-grade students from 10 Los Angeles high schools. Those who had used e-cigarettes at least once were more likely to start smoking cigarettes within the next year.

Moreover, teens who vape are taking in even more nicotine than they would get from traditional cigarettes. E-cigarette users can buy extra-strength cartridges that have a higher concentration of nicotine. Or they can increase the e-cigarette’s voltage so they inhale larger amounts of vapor. In fact, some e-liquid products contain nearly 50 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of liquid—more than four times the milligrams of nicotine in a cigarette. Moreover, vaping cannabis has a stronger effect than smoking marijuana.

These high dosages of nicotine and marijuana act on the brain in ways similar to other substances of abuse. Like other drugs, nicotine releases dopamine in the brain. In fact, research suggests that nicotine may be as addictive as heroin and cocaine. Hence, vaping carries a high risk of addiction. Therefore, it primes the brain for addiction to even more potent drugs in the future.

 “What I find most concerning about the rise of vaping is that people who would’ve never smoked otherwise, especially youth, are taking up the habit. And, it often leads to using traditional tobacco products down the road.”

—Michael Blaha, MD, MPH, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease

 

Newport Academy Substance Abuse Resources: Vaping Health Risks

 

What Parents Can Do About Teen Vaping

Parents can take steps to help prevent their kids from vaping health risks. In particular, communication between parents and teens is key in supporting good choices and positive coping mechanisms. Here are some ways to protect teens from the dangers of vaping.

  • Watch for warning signs. Because e-cigarettes do not have an odor, it’s harder to tell when teens are using them. However, there are other signs to watch for, including bloodshot eyes, increased thirst, nosebleeds, and cough.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Avoid yes/no questions when talking with teens about vaping. Ask them what they’ve heard about vaping and what their peers think about it. Approach the conversation with caring and curiosity, not judgment. If a teen admits to vaping, react with compassion.
  • Let them know about the dangers. Make sure that teens understand the potential long-term consequences of vaping.
  • Set a good example. If parents don’t want their teens to vape or smoke, they shouldn’t do so either. Teens will have a hard time believing that vaping is dangerous if they see adults doing it.
  • Get them the help they need. If a teen wants to stop vaping, make sure they receive access to professional help for breaking the habit and dealing with the physical and emotional symptoms of withdrawal.

To summarize, teen vaping is common, and vaping health risks present real dangers for teens.

 

Sources:

Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2018;38:1607–1615.

Pediatrics. 2018 Apr; 141(4).

Pediatrics. 2017 Feb. 139(2).