The popularity of vaping among teenagers has increased dramatically in recent years, with nearly 40% of 12th graders reporting that they have used a vaping or e-cigarette device over the past year and 20% reported vaping in the past 30 days. The rate of teen vaping increased by an alarming 78% between 2017 and 2018, putting teenagers all over the country at risk for first- and second-hand harms that are directly related to vaping.
Studies have conclusively demonstrated that e-cigarette companies (notably JUUL, which holds over 75% of the vaping market) have profited immensely from specifically targeting teenagers in their marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, mounting evidence proves that vaping is associated with very serious short and long-term negative health consequences, even when no nicotine is being inhaled, and teenagers face particular risks.
Health Effects of Vaping on the Teenage Body
E-cigarettes and vaping products have been widely available in the US since the mid-2000s and they have been incorrectly marketed as being completely safe and non-addictive. Unfortunately, a great deal of research has since been published that proves that vaping products are both harmful and associated with addiction.
Vaping proponents incorrectly argue that the exhaled “smoke” is simply water vapor and is completely harmless. However, the vaporized material that is exhaled includes a wide variety of dangerous chemicals and vaping health risks include both physical and psychological disorders that can have lifelong consequences. Importantly, second-hand vapor is no safer than first-hand vapor, meaning that teenagers who do not vape are nonetheless at risk for developing vaping-related health issues if they are regularly exposed.
Teenagers are undergoing a period of significant brain development and vaping products, especially when nicotine is present, can cause serious, long term damage. Nicotine has long been known to mimic a chemical in the brain called acetylcholine (ACh), which is crucial for everything from learning and memory formation to muscle movement and physical development. However, unlike ACh, nicotine inhibits normal learning, memory, and physical development. Thus, teenagers who use nicotine put themselves at risk for stunted brain development, which negatively affects subsequent body development.
Although research specific to the effect of e-cigarettes on eye health is still being conducted, it has long been known that people who smoke cigarettes are four times more likely to develop macular degeneration, which leads to blindness. Preliminary research on the effects of vaping on eye health suggests that is is no safer than cigarettes, and one study found that people who vape have moderate-to-severe dry eye and reduced tear production compared to those who do not vape.
Another risk associated with the use of vape pens is a defect that leads to an explosion. There have been a number of cases where people receive permanent visual impairments or blindness after an injury from an exploding vape cartridge.
Teeth and Gums
Cigarettes have long been linked to serious oral health consequences, including gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer. Vaping has been reported to have similar consequences and one preliminary study even found that cigarette smokers who switched to e-cigarettes had worse oral health (including bleeding gums and increased levels of harmful bacteria) than those who continued to use traditional cigarettes.
Vaping has very serious adverse effects on lung health. Numerous studies have shown that even the flavored vape fluid cartridges that do not include nicotine are incredibly damaging to the lungs. A recent Harvard study showed that over 90% of flavored vape liquids include dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals like diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione. When these chemicals are inhaled, they increase the risk for development of diseases like bronchiolitis obliterans (“popcorn lung”), chronic pulmonary obstruction disorder (COPD) and immune system dysfunction that increases the risk for pneumonia. Vaping also decreases overall air quality and worsens asthma severity, even with only second-hand exposure.
Studies on the long term effects of vaping on the heart are still being conducted, so there are several unanswered questions. However, preliminary data strongly suggests that people who vape may experience serious cardiovascular consequences. For example, one recent study found that daily e-cigarette use doubles the risk for heart attacks and second-hand exposure to vapor may be linked to an increased risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular health consequences. In addition, many vape pens use metal heating elements (lead, nickel or cadmium) that are known to cause cardiovascular disease.
Signs of Addiction
Many teenagers are under the incorrect belief that vaping is safe and non-addictive. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth and vaping, even without nicotine, is associated with the development of dependence and addiction. While nicotine is widely understood to be physically addictive, many people develop behavioral addictions when they regularly use flavor-only vape pens. Both physical and behavioral addictions can be powerful and difficult to overcome.
If your teen is vaping, you should be concerned that they may be at risk for developing an addiction. Signs that your teen is vaping include:
- “Vaper’s Tongue”: Vaping causes a loss of flavor perception, so people who vape often add extra salt or spices to food
- Reduced Caffeine Intake: Nicotine and caffeine are both stimulants that, when taken together, can lead to anxiety or jitteriness
- Chronic Cough: Vaping is highly irritating to lung tissue and a serious complication of vape-induced cough is pneumonia
- Unfamiliar USB Drives or Electronic Devices: Vape pen manufacturers have capitalized on the popularity of flashy electronic devices
- Sweet Smells: Flavored vape liquid comes with names like “cotton candy,” “creme brulee” and “tutti frutti” in order to appeal to young people
Signs of drug use in teens may also include:
- Secrecy/Paranoia: Teens who are hiding substance use from their parents may be especially resentful of perceived intrusions
- Unexplained absences: If your teen can’t make it through dinner without running outside, they may be vaping
- Irritability: When someone has an addiction and they can’t use their substance of choice, they will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that include irritability and mood swings
- New friends: A new friend group may be a red flag, especially if old friends are no longer a part of your teenager’s life
- Poor grades or missing school: Worsening academic performance is a hallmark sign of substance use and teen addiction
If you are concerned that your teen is using vape pens, e-cigarettes or any other substance, now is the time to take action. Next Generation Village offers comprehensive teen drug rehab programs. Contact us today to learn how we can help.
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.