Understanding, identifying, and fighting the teenage vaping epidemic

Traditional combustible cigarette use among teenagers dropped to a record low in 2017, plummeting from nearly 30% in the 1970s to only 5.4%.  While on the surface this might appear to be good news for the health and future of our youth, the sinister reality and cause for the decline is far less encouraging. While e-cigarettes and vaping have existed for well over a decade, the sudden surge in teenage consumption has skyrocketed in the past three years.  In 2017, according to the FDA, over 2.1 million middle school and high school aged children consider themselves regular users of vape pens, e-cigarettes, JUULs, and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS).  With new studies being released monthly surrounding the health and social impacts vaping can have on teenagers, the evidence that e-cigarettes pose a serious threat to our children continues to mount.

What is Vaping

Vaping has become a term synonymous with the use of any e-cigarette or ENDS product.  Vaping is the act of inhaling the aerosol product created from liquid nicotine products, often referred to as ‘juice’.  Available in a variety of flavors, vaping is an alternative method of ingesting nicotine products.  The variety of flavors and the absence of the traditional nicotine scent left behind from traditional cigarettes has made vaping a more attractive option for teenagers, and the misconception that vaping is somehow ‘healthier’ than traditional combustible cigarettes has led to a spike in underage use.

What are the Risks

As with any product worth billions of dollars, the e-cigarette and vaping industry has diligently worked to market their product in a positive light, promoting the idea that vaping is somehow a healthier alternative to smoking.  Unfortunately, the ever expanding scientific data does not support the narrative being offered by the e-cigarette industry.  With significant findings showing a direct link between vaping and brain damage, serious lung disease and failure, and mental health conditions – as well as the use of known carcinogenic chemicals, e-cigarettes pose a tremendous threat to the user’s overall health.  In teenagers, the risks are exacerbated.  Where the human brain continues to grow and develop through the age of 25, vaping has shown signs of impairing neural functions such as synapse growth, resulting in serious cognitive developmental consequences.

What is Being Done and What can I Do

Parents and school administrators can play an important role in eradicating the teen vaping epidemic.  Educational programs and support groups are available to children in Middle and High school settings, as well as a wide governmental marketing effort to expose the significant risks of vaping.  However, as a parent, there are a few steps you can take to help fight the teen vaping epidemic:

Talk to Your Child – It might seem basic, but the first line of defense in combating vaping is creating a safe space for honest conversation.

Understand the Specific Risks – Your child might not fully comprehend the lifelong implications of addiction or health consequences, so presenting the information in a specific and direct way can help them process the risks.

Inform, Don’t Lecture – The fastest way to alienate your child when talking about taboo or uncomfortable situations is to over lecture.  Practice active listening and resist preaching.

Ask for Help – This is an intimidating topic and situation.  Thankfully, there are hundreds of resources to help you along your way for advice, information, and support.

As long as there are teenagers, there will be rebellious behavior.  However, as parents and educators, it is important we do our best to curb actions and behaviors that will present lifelong struggles, illness, and impact.  Together, we can help reduce the risk and create a brighter future for our children by understanding the negative impact of e-cigarettes and teenage vaping.