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Teen Trends: Is Vaping Safe?

Teen drug abuse

Here is a brain teaser. Which one of these was invented first?

  1. Automated teller machine (ATM)
  2. Mobile phone
  3. Electronic cigarette
  4. Arpanet (precursor to the Internet)

Believe it or not, the answer is C. The first prototype of an e-cigarette was built in 1965 by Herman A. Gilbert, who is credited with the creation of vaping. Over half a century later, the world is still debating whether the consumption of e-cigarettes is safe, especially for teenagers.

What Exactly IS Vaping?

The term “vape” is short for vaporizer, which is really all that an electronic cigarette does. It uses a power source to turn a solid or liquid substance into vapor before it is inhaled by the user. Most people vape with what are known as “e-liquids,” though sometimes waxy concentrates or dry herbs are used with e-cigarettes.

As with traditional cigarettes, the vaping substances used with e-cigarettes usually (but not always) contain nicotine. Even though the Food and Drug Administration classifies e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, they do not contain tobacco of any kind. Instead, vaping is just another nicotine delivery system like similarly-manufactured gum or patches.

Vaping vs. Smoking

Because of the absence of tobacco and the other carcinogens found in cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not pose a danger of lung cancer and related diseases for vapers. That is a big reason why e-cigarettes are marketed as a smoking cessation alternative for adults. 

Still, the nicotine in e-cigarettes is just as addictive as when the substance is consumed in tobacco, nicotine gum, or nicotine patches. Because vaping is now much more popular among teenagers than smoking cigarettes or marijuana, parents and health advocates are concerned about the long-term effects of vaping as adolescents grow into adults.

How Dangerous IS Vaping?

More specifically, some researchers believe that e-cigarettes act as a “gateway drug” for smoking traditional cigarettes. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2016 claims that out of 146 teens surveyed who were frequent vapers (i.e., used e-cigarettes three times in the past month), 20 percent of them reported similar usage of regular cigarettes several months later, while another 12 percent admitted to smoking cigarettes at least once a month. In contrast, less than 1 percent of the 2,075 students who had never tried e-cigarettes reported smoking regular cigarettes at least once a month by the end of the study period.

Teen drug abuse

But before parents panic about the alleged harms of e-cigarettes, here are some other points to consider:

  1. Overall teenage cigarette smoking rates are at their lowest in recorded history, with only 13.6 percent of 12th-graders smoking at least once a month.
  2. There is no evidence which directly correlates e-cigarette use with abuse of harmful illicit drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin.
  3. Studies like the one in JAMA are unable to distinguish whether e-cigarettes increased teens’ likelihood of smoking cigarettes or whether the types of adolescents who experimented with vaping would have also taken up smoking regardless. 

Think about it. If a study found 20 percent of teens had bungee-jumped, 10 percent had gone skydiving, and 70 percent did neither, would a follow-up study which showed that half of the bungee-jumpers had tried skydiving while barely anyone in the “neither” group had done so indicate that bungee-jumping is a “gateway” activity to skydiving? Or would it merely show that teens who are generally more “daredevilish” are just as likely to try bungee-jumping and/or skydiving than the rest of their peers?

What to Do About Vaping Teens

So how should parents handle teenaged children who are vaping?

First of all, it is important to note that unlike nicotine gum or patches (which teens can obtain with a doctor’s prescription), vaping is illegal for people under 18 years old in all 50 states. Therefore, parents can call upon this reasoning to prohibit their kids from vaping if they wish. Plus, it is possible for teens to overconsume nicotine and become sick.

Teen drug abuse

As for the potential dangers of vaping, while there may not be conclusive evidence that this behavior leads to smoking cigarettes, parents can choose to view vaping as a “red flag” that their teen might be more likely to have the personality traits of an individual who would choose to experiment with cigarettes. While parents may wish to address this behavior, they should not panic and rush their kids to a substance abuse treatment facility.

Though it is difficult to predict the long-term popularity of vaping among teens, electronic cigarettes are almost certainly here to stay. Until more research is conducted on the possible dangers of vaping and the proclivities of those who use electronic cigarettes, parents may want to remain watchful of their teens who are thinking about (or actively using) e-cigarettes.

What if you discover your child has a substance use disorder? For more information on treatment for teen substance abuse, contact us.

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