Vaping and Teens: Crisis or Hysteria?

One of the big vaping stories recently is about the prevalence of vaping in high schools by teenagers. Many people already believe that vaping is bad for you and some are calling it a crisis, even going so far as to suggest government intervention. Is that necessary and is there even a real crisis or is it just hysteria akin to the “reefer madness” of the 1950’s?

What are the Teenagers Vaping?

In this particular case, concerned citizens are worried about teenagers vaping e-cigarettes, the JUUL in particular. E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, are small, portable devices that use a battery to heat up a liquid that is turned into vapor which is inhaled by the user. The liquid consists of various additives but the concern is over the nicotine present in most e-liquids. Previously, there was a concern that vaping could cause popcorn lung, that fear was debunked but now the worry is that nicotine could harm teenagers’ brain development.

The JUUL is a popular brand of e-cigarette because it is very easy to use, discreet, portable, and the JUUL pods it uses come in a variety of flavors. However, those qualities have made it, and other JUUL alternatives, appealing to teenagers. Needless to say, the JUUL, and e-cigarettes in general, are not marketed to teenagers, they are marketed to adults as a less dangerous alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes.

JUUL eCig Review
The JUUL E-cigarette.

How Many Teenagers are Vaping?

Apparently, a lot. Vaping has become more popular with teenagers than smoking, with the annual Monitor the Future survey showing that 27.8% of high school seniors have tried vaping. This is in concert with lower instances of smoking and drug use by teenagers, so while the use of those substances has dropped, vaping has increased dramatically.

According to a CDC study, 4.3% of middle schoolers and 11.3% of high schoolers use e-cigarettes. Students tend to order their e-cigarettes online, something that is possible even though the sale of e-cigarettes to minors is illegal. The majority of the sites from which e-cigarettes are bought do not use age-verification like an actual physical retailer would.

There are also instructions in online forums, message boards, and video sharing sites about how adolescents and teenagers can purchase e-cigarettes. This lack of care is why so many teenagers are able to obtain e-cigarettes despite the fact that it is sometimes illegal and that e-cigarette manufacturers do not recommend their use by minors.

Is Vaping by Teenagers a Serious Problem?

More research needs to be done about the safety of vaping in general and whether or not it’s a healthier alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes. However, in the case of teenagers vaping, the concern is over the use of nicotine in the e-liquids used in e-cigarettes. Nicotine is the addictive component in tobacco and studies have shown that its exposure to the developing adolescent brain is a real concern.

A research paper in the Journal of Physiology noted that, “use of drugs containing nicotine may have potentially severe consequences for teen addiction, cognition, and emotional regulation. Thus, not only tobacco but also e-cigarettes must be considered as serious threats to adolescent mental health.” Regardless of anyone’s stance on cigarette or e-cigarette use, it is clear that teenagers should not be using any products that contain nicotine.

There are also concerns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to the use of regular cigarettes, even though they are meant to be a tool to aid in smoking cessation. This hasn’t been proven yet since we have to wait and see if the teenagers who vape do end up smoking once they get older. However, even the possibility that they might is causing concern among parents and researchers.

What is the Future of Teenage Vaping?

It is clear that teenagers should not be using any nicotine based products because nicotine has a detrimental effect on the developing teenage brain. It is also clear that there needs to be more regulation when it comes to the sale of e-cigarettes and other vaporizers to underage children. They should not be able to acquire a product meant for, and marketed towards, adults so easily.

E-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the FDA even though the agency proposed a rule that would regulate their sale to minors. This proposed regulation has been delayed, a move that has angered quite a few concerned organizations and pediatricians. The furor over the use of e-cigarettes by young adults might seem like the latest move to demonize vaping but there is a genuine reason for concern here.

However, the blame for the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes among teenagers should not be laid at the feet of the vaping industry. The products they manufacture are clearly marketed towards adults, not teenagers. It is unknown what the solution to teen vaping will be but whatever it is, it should not cast aspersions on vaping as a whole. The manufacturers of e-cigarettes want their products to be used by responsible adults, not as a trendy device for teenagers.

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