With student e-cigarette use at alarming levels, talking with your children has never been more important.
Though first introduced as potential healthy alternative to cigarettes, Electronic Nicotine Devices (ENDs) such as e-cigarettes and vape pens are harmful for your lungs and bad for your health.
It all comes down to two simple truths, according to SMH Lung Cancer Screening Program Coordinator Amie Miller:
- “Our lungs are meant to breathe air.”
- “We’re not meant to inhale foreign substances.”
Still, respiratory health professionals are seeing an alarming uptick in the amount of people, particularly children in middle school and high school, picking up the e-habit.
“It’s become an epidemic,” Miller says.
What’s In A Vape?
Electronic Nicotine Device. E-cigarette. Vape. A problem by any name.
But what’s actually in an electronic cigarette? What’s inhaled?
Here’s a hint: it’s not just water vapor.
Electronic cigarettes work by heating up a liquid nicotine solution commonly called “e-liquid” or “e-juice,” into a vapor that can be inhaled. But there’s much more in there than just nicotine and water vapor.
In addition to those two advertised ingredients, e-liquids have also been found to contain multiple carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals, including nickel, tin and even lead.
“And you’re heating this up and inhaling it,” says Miller.
Not only that, Miller continues, but many of these e-liquids have very high concentrations of nicotine, equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes but much easier to burn through.
“We’re talking massive amounts of nicotine in tiny little cartridges,” she says.
“And kids have totally jumped on board.”
An Epidemic Among Adolescents
Use of e-cigarettes among children in middle school and high school remains a serious issue.
In 2022, more than 2.5 million middle and high school students in the US admitted to currently using e-cigarettes, according to the CDC. This includes 14% of high school students reporting using e-cigarettes, with 3.3% of middle schoolers reporting use as well.
These findings come on the heels of the CDC’s earlier reports, noting a 1000% rise of disposable e-cigarettes use among high schoolers, from 2019 to 2020, with a 400% rise among the middle school population.
“Our kids are getting addicted to nicotine in record levels,” says Miller. “And most of these kids will go on to smoke traditional cigarettes too. “
This kind of nicotine use is particularly hazardous for adolescents, whose brains are still developing and can be negatively affected by such high amounts of nicotine.
“We’re setting up a cycle of long-term health consequences,” says Miller.
See Something, Say Something
Nicotine use can be hard to detect, especially because e-cigarettes do not create the heavy odor that traditional burning cigarettes do.
And while nicotine can affect the developing brain and cause reduced impulse control, attention deficits and other subtle changes in behavior, it can be difficult to distinguish these things from run-of-the-mill teenage angst.
“Nicotine doesn’t impair you like alcohol,” says Miller. “You just have to pay attention to what they’re doing.”
A big part of this is paying attention to what the e-cigarette industry is marketing to children and teens and what the popular nicotine products are. Just a few years ago, it was the Juul—an e-cigarette that looks like a USB drive—but these things change quickly.
Today the most popular e-cigarette or vape brand for middle and high school students is called Puff Bar. Sleek and colorful, like an Apple product, these disposable vape pens can be pre-loaded with anywhere from 400 to 3,500 “puffs” of synthetic nicotine, and come in at least 20 different flavors. And among current e-cigarette users, 85% use flavored options, so the marketing is working.
“And it’s a good idea for all parents to become educated and understand what these different products look like,” says Miller, so they can know if they start appearing around the house.
But the best solution is prevention, and making sure that children and teens understand the dangers of nicotine abuse and addiction.
“Parents need to have the conversation,” Miller says.
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky, and should work on his diet.