Canaan, CT – Over the past three years, e-cigarettes – commonly referred to as “vapes,” “vape-pens,” or even “JUULs,” a brand name e-cigarette – have increasingly found their way into the hands of Connecticut teenagers, who use them to consume nicotine and even marijuana. Here are the top five surprising reasons these vaping devices threaten teenagers’ well-being:
- They contain hazardous chemicals. Both nicotine and marijuana inflict damage on users’ respiratory and brain health. “Even though the effects of marijuana are sometimes downplayed next to substances like nicotine, marijuana use can also interfere with adolescent brain development,” says Carolee Paruta, Regional Director of Outpatient Services at Mountainside treatment center. “Using marijuana in any form can be harmful, but vaping it can be especially toxic because it exposes teens to unsafe aerosol chemicals as well.”
- Fun flavors mask health risks. Swayed by false advertising depicting vape pens as safe alternatives to traditional cigarettes, many young people assume vaping is not harmful. A 2017 Connecticut Department of Public Health survey revealed that 16 percent of high school students said they took up vaping because it was less dangerous than smoking combustible cigarettes. The novelty of flavors, like chocolate cake and cotton candy, further entice teenagers to vape. Connecticut DPH researchers found that 24 percent of high school students started vaping because they were drawn to the variety of flavors available. Teens may enjoy these flavors, but a 2018 study by Duke University Medical Center discovered that inhaling them can cause inflammation and irritation.
- They’re easy to hide. Some tobacco companies – such as JUUL, which saw a 600 percent surge in profits from 2016 to 2017 – offer vaping devices that look like USB flash drives. Parents and educators may not detect that these devices are being used to deliver marijuana and nicotine because their small, inconspicuous shape allows teenagers to easily conceal them.
- They introduce young people to tobacco use. Data from the Connecticut DPH confirms that teenagers are most likely to be exposed to tobacco use through e-cigarettes. When survey participants were asked about the first tobacco product they ever tried, 50 percent of high school students reported that they initially experimented with e-cigarettes, while only 24 percent of respondents used traditional cigarettes first. Even more alarmingly, teenagers who vape are seven times more likely to start using combustible cigarettes after only six months, according to a 2018 article in the journal Pediatrics.
- They can cause addiction. With continued use, adolescents can develop an addiction after becoming physically dependent on nicotine or marijuana to relax or have fun. Some e-cigarettes contain nicotine levels that exceed those of combustible cigarettes – one JUUL pod, for instance, has the nicotine equivalent of 20 traditional cigarettes – meaning teenagers can become addicted over short periods of time. Nicotine dependence can result in a weakened immune system, organ damage, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. Marijuana addiction also poses risks, including decreased motivation and cognitive abilities, breathing complications, anxiety, depression, poor academic or professional performance, strained interpersonal relationships, and financial repercussions. Vaping nicotine or marijuana can also increase teenagers’ risk of becoming dependent on other drugs and traditional cigarettes.
In the face of this growing epidemic, those who suspect their children may be suffering from addiction should seek the help of professionals who understand the impact of the disease and the unique risk factors that teenagers face. Through adolescent treatment programs, struggling teenagers can confront the root of their addiction and experience the rewarding, substance-free life they deserve.