What Parents Need to Know About Teens and Vaping

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Should I let my teenager vape? That’s a question that more and more parents are asking as vaping becomes increasingly popular among teens. The most recent youth vaping statistics tracking the data on teens and vaping show that the activity has become commonplace for this age group. In fact, 2019 data shows that the increase in vaping over the last year was larger than any other substance use increase among teens over the last four decades. Furthermore, with drug and alcohol use increasing as a result of pandemic-related anxiety and depression, teen vaping rates may be rising even faster this year.

In addition, most parents do not know enough about the safety of vaping to understand the risks it can pose to their teenager. For one, research has shown that vaping can be just as addictive as smoking traditional cigarettes, and it can lead to using harder drugs. Moreover, people who vape regularly may be at greater risk for lung damage should they contract coronavirus, although this has not been proven. Thus, educating parents on vaping is key to the health and well-being of young people.

What Is Vaping and What Is in Vape?

Vaping is a word used for the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol created by a device made for this purpose. Vaping devices are also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs, vape pens, e-hookahs, and electronic nicotine delivery systems. The majority of vaping devices are made up of four parts or components:

  • Cartridge, which holds a liquid solution containing nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals—also known as e-juice
  • Atomizer—the heating element, activated by puffing on the device, which vaporizes the liquid in the cartridge
  • Battery, which powers the heating element
  • Mouthpiece used to inhale the vapor produced by the heated liquid.

The liquid in vapes is made up of water, flavorings, a glycerin base, and either nicotine or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Although nicotine vapes are more common, the use of THC vapes is on the rise among teens, particularly with the spread of marijuana 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. Research validates this link.

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) study surveys a nationally representative sample of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.

The 2019 MTF survey results show that the dramatic rise in youth vaping is continuing. In fact, the increases in nicotine vaping among adolescents are among the largest ever recorded for any substance during the 45 years in which the MTF has been tracking teen drug use. Let’s take a closer look at the statistics on teens and vaping:

  • Between 2017 and 2019, nicotine vaping increased by 16.5 percent among high school seniors
  • Among 10th graders, nicotine vaping increased by 15 percent during that time frame
  • For 8th graders, the increase was 9 percent
  • 4 percent of 10th graders and 20.8 percent of 12th graders report that they have vaped marijuana—a 7 percent increase for both groups since 2017
  • Half of 8th graders, two-thirds of 10th graders, and three-quarters or 12th graders say that vaping devices are easily available to them.

However, youth vaping statistics also show that the perceived risk of nicotine vaping among adolescents has also gone up. This shows that teens are becoming more aware of the health issues related to e-cigarettes. A total of 42 percent of 8th graders, 40 percent of 10th graders, and 38 percent of 12th graders felt that regularly vaping nicotine was a “great risk.”

Moreover, these survey results were taken prior to the vaping-related lung disease identified in 2019. As a result of the subsequent media coverage on the safety of vaping, many more teens are now aware of the risks.

Why Do Teens Vape?

One reason why teens vape—particularly if they vape marijuana—is to self-medicate their mental health symptoms. As a result of the pandemic, teens are experiencing increased symptoms of mental health conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Therefore, researchers who study teens and vaping theorize that the rate of teen substance abuse is also going up.

Here are some of the other common reasons why teens use vapes and e-cigarettes, according to recent research from the Centers for Disease Control:

  1. Being curious about vaping (56 percent)
  2. Friend or family member vapes (24 percent)
  3. They are drawn to the flavored vape liquids, with mango and mint most popular (22 percent)
  4. Believing that vaping is less harmful than using tobacco in other forms, such as cigarettes (17 percent)
  5. Having the ability to use them without being noticed at home or at school (14.5 percent)
  6. Experiencing peer pressure to vape (8.9 percent).

Regarding number 6, 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, 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 themselves.

Is Vaping a Safe Alternative to Smoking?

Research consistently shows that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to start smoking tobacco cigarettes. Hence, many experts consider teen vaping a gateway drug that leads not only to smoking cigarettes, but also to using marijuana and potentially harder drugs down the line. Therefore, educational efforts regarding teens and vaping are a priority.

Moreover, some experts have proposed that vaping may make individuals more vulnerable to coronavirus. Research on this connection is not yet definitive, but medical professionals agree that teens who suffered from the vaping-related lung disease in 2019 may be at greater risk as a result of their weakened respiratory systems. That outbreak was traced to marijuana vapes that included the additive vitamin E acetate, sometimes used to stretch the THC content in the vaping product.

Long-term studies on the safety of vaping have not yet been published, as the product is relatively new. However, vaping could very well be harmful in ways that are yet unknown, particularly in regard to long-term pulmonary toxicity and cardiovascular disease.

How to Talk to Your Teen About Vaping

The answer to the question “Is vaping a safe alternative to smoking?” is a clear no. However, the answer to the question “Should I let my teenager vape?” is more difficult, because it’s not easy to control a teen’s behavior. Here are some tips for addressing issues regarding teens and vaping.

  • Start an open conversation. If you know or suspect your teen is vaping, or simply want to stat the conversation, ask questions without being angry, preachy, or judgmental. Find out if they know others who are vaping, if they’re curious about trying it, or if they have tried it. If yes, ask them why they are vaping. Is it due to peer pressure, or are they are feeling anxious and trying to find ways to stay calm? Continue this open dialogue over time to make sure your teen knows that you care about what they’re doing.
  • Give them language to combat peer pressure: Support teens to strategize ways to deflect the pressure to vape. For example, they might say simply, “No, thanks,” or they could “blame” it on you: “My parents would kill me if I vaped!” They can also choose to spend time with friends who don’t vape.
  • Educate them on the safety of vaping. Make sure your teen has information about what is in vape and how those chemicals can affect them, as well as the health risks of using nicotine and THC. Share the research on how vaping can lead to cigarette smoking and using other dangerous drugs.
  • Make sure they get the help they need. If anxiety or depression is prompting your teen’s vaping, they may need the support of a mental health professional to help them find healthy coping mechanisms. Moreover, if they have become addicted to nicotine or dependent on marijuana, they will need support to quit the vaping habit, along with therapy to address the underlying causes of substance abuse. Many therapists offer telehealth appointments. Your family doctor is one good place to start.

 

Sources:

Psychiatry Res. 2020 Sep; 291: 113264.

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2017 Aug; 26(8): 1175–1191.

JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(2):e187794.

Surveillance Summaries. 2019 Dec;68(12);1–22.

JAMA. 2019;322(21):2132-2134.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash