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Connection Between Vaping and Nicotine Addiction

Teen girl and boy vaping nicotine in a smoke shop  

Vaping has taken parents, high schools and public health officials by storm, with an astonishing increase in vaping among teenagers in recent years. Nearly 40% of 12th graders have used a vape device and over 20% have vaped within the past month.

There is no safe way to vape. Teenagers are at particular risk for long-term negative health consequences.

What Is Juuling?

“Juuling” is a term that comes from the vape product brand JUUL, which has cornered the vaping market. A 2019 Stanford University report declared that JUUL’s marketing strategy was “patently youth-oriented,” despite JUUL’s fervent claims that the brightly colored and creatively named flavored vaping products (cotton candy, creme brulee and cool mint are popular JUUL flavors) are not aimed at kids. Within 3 years of being introduced, JUUL was worth more than $15 billion.

Among teenagers, the terms “juul” and “vape” indicate the same thing: inhaling aerosolized particles from an electronic device that uses heat to vaporize a liquid.

Teen Vaping and Juuling Statistics

Between 2011 and 2015, e-cigarette use among teenagers increased from 1.5% to 16%. In response, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented federal regulations in 2016 that prohibited the sale of all tobacco products — including e-cigarettes, e-liquids, and accessories — to minors. In spite of these new laws, teen vaping grew by an astonishing 78% among teenagers between 2017 and 2018.

In 2018, Stanford determined that teens between 15 and 17 years old were 16 times more likely to use a JUUL product than adults who are 25 or 34 years old. Also, 9.5% of teenagers between 15 and 17 years old were found to be current JUUL users, as were 11.2% of 18- to 21-year-olds. Only 3.2% of 25- to 34-year-olds were JUUL users.

There are no standard nicotine concentrations between e-cigarette brands or refillable liquids. JUUL has long claimed that one of their “pods” has as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, but considering that people can finish one JUUL pod in a few hours, someone could easily vape the equivalent of several packs of cigarettes in a day.

Are Vaping and Juuling the Same?

Vaping and juuling are the same, and both refer to inhaling aerosolized particles (vapor) that are produced when a battery-driven heating element heats a glycerin-based liquid. Conventional smoking differs in that it requires a combustion reaction to create smoke, rather than vapor. Many teens state that the chemical process underlying vaping is safer than smoking. Although this may be partially true in some instances, there is no question that vaping is bad for their health, and teenagers face particular risks for lifelong damage caused by vaping.

Risks for Children and Teens That Vape or Juul

A common argument made by teens is that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes. Even if this argument were true, e-cigarettes would only be safer for people who already smoke cigarettes. Most teenagers start with e-cigarettes, which are significantly more dangerous than not using any cigarette products at all. Secondly, the e-liquid in JUUL or other vape pens have been found to carry incredibly dangerous chemicals that cause incurable and devastating respiratory illnesses like bronchiolitis obliterans (“popcorn lung”).

What Are the Dangers of Vaping Without Nicotine?

E-liquid manufacturers often claim that because their flavored liquids are safe to eat, they are safe to inhale. Recently, the effects of inhaling aerosolized “food-safe” chemicals have been evaluated. The process of vaporizing products breaks them into dangerous particles like diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione. In addition, cancer-causing formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been found in e-liquids.

Potential health consequences of vaping without nicotine include:

Several studies have shown that teenagers who use nicotine-free vaping products develop a psychological dependence on the act of vaping and are significantly more likely to use both nicotine e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes in the future. In addition, some studies have shown that even products that claim to be nicotine-free actually contain nicotine.

Second-hand vaping is also proving to have adverse effects, including reducing indoor air quality and increasing the odds of future asthma attacks.

What Are the Dangers of Vaping with Nicotine?

Nicotine is one of the most addictive chemicals known to man. Nicotine was ranked third on a list of dependence-causing drugs, behind only heroin and cocaine. Unlike traditional cigarettes, which are immediately irritating to the throat and lungs, e-cigarettes contain nicotine salts, which are smoother when inhaled compared to conventional cigarettes, which are associated with harsh, noxious initial experiences that may reduce the likelihood of further use.

Nicotine is known to have devastating consequences on the teenage brain by mimicking the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh), which is required for everything from muscle control to learning and memory formation. Nicotine mimics ACh in structure but not function, meaning that nicotine can bind to the same elements that ACh does but without producing the physiological effects. Consequently, ACh-mediated learning and memory stop when nicotine replaces ACh in the brain.

Nicotine Addiction From Juuling

JUUL brand vape pens contain as much nicotine as a regular pack of cigarettes and double the nicotine as many other brands of vape pens. Even vape liquids that claim to be nicotine-free have been found to contain nicotine.

Teen addiction is a significant predictor of future substance use disorders, including cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs, as well as mental health problems. The powerfully addictive nature of nicotine, combined with the very real dangers of teen nicotine use, set teens up for substantial lifelong negative effects.

How to tell if Your Kid Is Juuling

Youth vaping is often done openly, but the bottom line is that vaping is never safe. Teenagers are at particularly high risk for long-term consequences including nicotine addiction and associated diseases and disorders.

Signs of juuling include:

  • Increased thirst: Juuling dehydrates the mouth and throat.
  • “Vaper’s Tongue”: E-cigarettes are associated with reduced flavor perception, so vapers often add extra salt or spices to food.
  • Reduced caffeine intake: Nicotine and caffeine are both stimulants.
  • Chronic cough: Juuling (with or without nicotine) irritates lung tissue.
  • Unfamiliar USB or electronic devices: Vape pens and JUULs have capitalized on the popularity of electronic devices.
  • Sweet smells: Flavored e-liquid comes with names like “cotton candy,” “tutti frutti” and “creme brulee.”
  • Secrecy or evasiveness: Teens who are hiding juuling may be especially resentful of perceived intrusions.
  • Irritability: Vaping nicotine quickly leads to dependence and addiction; withdrawal symptoms include irritability and mood swings.

Vaping can lead to substance abuse. If your teen struggles with a substance use disorder, reach out to Next Generation Village to speak with a representative about how evidence-based treatment can help your teen achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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