Everywhere around the country, teens are using or “vaping” e-cigarettes. Products like Juul have been running rampant due to their sleek design, which makes it easy for the user to conceal. The slim vape pen looks like a USB flash drive and is available in a medley of flavors. It is so common in some schools that many teens now consider it a normal part of the high school experience. School administrators, doctors, and FDA officials, on the other hand, are worried about the dangerous, long-term consequences these e-cigarettes may have on teens.
What You Need to Know About Vaping
Since 2007, vaping has been promoted as an alternative to cigarettes, designed to help smokers reduce or quit smoking. While many consider e-cigarettes to be the lesser of two evils, there is no definitive data yet proving that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional ones. Much like cigarettes, their electronic counterparts contain nicotine. A 2018 study found that two-thirds of teens and young adults ages 15 to 21 who vape didn’t know this.
The Rise of Vaping
Although adults are the intended demographic for vaping, more than 2 million e-cigarette users are in middle school and high school. Several lawmakers attribute this industry’s success to its marketing practices, which many suspect had been actively targeting teens. Since its rise in popularity, the vaping industry has consistently promoted its fruit-flavored pods, and companies like Juul have reached out to adolescents through youth-oriented ads, social media campaigns, and exciting launch parties. While these companies have denied doing this intentionally, the FDA has sent 10 letters warning retailers and manufacturers about continuing to conduct outreach on teens.
“The FDA is especially disturbed by some of these new products being marketed to children and teens by promoting the ease with which they can be used to conceal product use, which appeals to kids because it allows them to conceal tobacco product use from parents, teachers, law enforcement or other adults,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., Director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. The FDA has also partnered with Scholastic to create resources to help school administrators and educators prevent these products from harming their students.
Teens Addicted to Nicotine
Despite the FDA’s efforts to reduce vaping’s online presence, it is still being glamorized all over social media. Teens see hashtags like #VapeLife, #vapetricks, and #vapenation, and they don’t want to miss out. Since e-cigarettes are marketed as safer than traditional ones, many teens are unaware of their hazardous components. According to a survey by the University of Michigan, a majority of teens believe they are simply vaping flavoring. The reality is that 99 percent of e-cigarettes sold contain nicotine.
Teens are becoming addicted to nicotine without realizing that they have a problem. They are vaping in the bathroom, at lunch, on the bus, and even in class. But because it is such a socially acceptable trend among high school students, they don’t realize that their use has increased and the negative impact that e-cigarettes are having on their lives.
Luka, a high school sophomore, only realized he had a problem when he began selling his clothes to support his $150 per week vaping habit. He knew his behavior had changed. He knew his grades had severely suffered. He knew he had lost interest in his hobbies. But he didn’t realize that vaping was to blame. “I thought that everybody else was making me change. I didn’t think it was smoking or anything like that — I thought it was just the fact that the world is against me,” he said.
The Unknown Danger Ahead
Many teens who vape find themselves blindsided by their dependence to nicotine. Doctors believe this dependence could lead teens to eventually move on to traditional cigarettes, which kill 480,000 Americans per year. But aside from the possible spiral into cigarette use, doctors are concerned about the long-term effects of e-cigarettes.
The impact that nicotine addiction may have on brain development is a primary concern. Because the prefrontal cortex does not finish developing until around the age of 25, teens who consume nicotine at an early age may suffer from loss of memory, inability to focus, increased sensitivity to other substances, and greater impulsivity.
“The long-term consequences of e-cigarette use are unknown. There’s no reason healthy adolescents should be exposing themselves to even potentially cancer-causing substances,” says Dr. Mark Rubinstein, an adolescent medicine physician and a professor at the University of California.