Teens and Vaping: Knowing and Understanding the Risks

  • Oct. 21, 2019, 12:59 p.m.

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, e-vaporizers, or electronic nicotine delivery systems, are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale aerosol, which typically contain nicotine (though not always), flavorings, and other chemicals.[1] E-cigarette devices may resemble typical cigarettes, but may also look like pipes, pens or even USB memory sticks.[2] Due to the wide availability of e-cigarettes, vaping is growing in popularity among youth populations. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, teens are more likely to use e-cigarettes than cigarettes and teen e-cigarette users are 30% more likely to start smoking within 6 months than non-e-cigarette users.[3] Data suggests that twice as many teen boys use e-cigarettes as girls.[4] There are growing concerns that the chemicals and other substances used in e-cigarettes are dangerous. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of the Surgeon General note that more youth than adults use e-cigarettes and besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients including:

  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead

In addition to the general risks of harmful chemicals associated with traditional e-cigarettes, a recent article released by Reuters Health highlighted research on adolescents and young adults who have smoked e-cigarettes. According to a highlighted study, youth who vape are more likely to move on to marijuana than youth who do not use e-cigarettes. The study of more than 100,000 participants indicated that overall young people who used e-cigarettes were 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana.[5] Similarly, the Monitoring the Future Study found that 37% of 12th graders admitted to "vaping" within the last year and 13.1 percent of 12th graders reported vaping marijuana within the past year, an increase from 9.5% in 2017.[6]

So, why is vaping marijuana of higher concern? "Vaping marijuana (THC oil) can be more dangerous than smoking the drug. This is because people vape a high concentration of THC which, in turn, intensifies the high and can increase the likelihood of addiction and adverse medical consequences."[7] Studies have found these liquids can be thirty times more concentrated than dry marijuana leaves.[8]

Why are more teens turning to vaping? Teens may also prefer vaping as the devices are easy to hide, carry, and generally do not leave behind a mess. Because vaping devices can be smokeless and odorless kids can conceal their vaping activities from parents, teachers, and administrators.[9] To support awareness and support diversion from the potential link to future drug use, Tribal youth service providers should continue to teach and educate youth on the numerous risks and harm associated with the use of e-cigarettes and vaping.

[1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes
[2] Id.

[3] https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/teens-e-cigarettes

[4] Id.

[5] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-kids-smoking/teen-vaping-tied-to-marijuana-use-idUSKCN1V324S

[6] https://www.getsmartaboutdrugs.gov/content/teens-and-vaping

[7] Id.

[8] https://yourteenmag.com/health/drugs-alcohol/using-e-cigarettes-for-marijuana

[9] Id.


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