Cutting Through the Fog: Vaping Harms Teens

Premier Health Now

E-cigarettes used for vaping were “initially designed as an off-ramp for smokers to get off cigarettes,” says Michael Barrow, MD, of Premier Health Family Care – North. Now they’re increasingly becoming “an on-ramp for people who wouldn’t normally get involved” in vaping – particularly middle and high school students.

This, Dr. Barrow told Premier Health Now, explains why the FDA recently ordered the five largest makers of vaping devices to come up with a plan to keep their products out of adolescents’ hands – or risk having flavored e-cigarettes taken off the market.

Why this concern about vaping among underage users?

Vaping poses serious health risks, Dr. Barrow says.

“There’s definitely the misconception that there’s no harm in vaping because there’s no smoke, no fire, it’s just steam,” Dr. Barrow says. “But it’s really a lot more than steam. There’s a lot of nicotine in it.” Vaping, he says, “have the same addictive problem with nicotine as cigarettes.”

He adds, “A vaping cartridge has about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.” Nicotine can negatively impact preteens and teens at a crucial time of their brain development, Dr. Barrow advises. The nicotine can make their brains more vulnerable to addiction – to nicotine and other substances. The brain continues developing until about age 25.

Other risks of nicotine exposure to teens’ developing brains include mood disorders and lowered impulse control, the U.S. Surgeon General warns.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that from 2011 to 2017 vaping increased from 0.6 to 3.3% of middle schoolers and from 1.5 to 11.7% of high schoolers.

Part of the attraction of vaping for youth is the candy flavors of vape liquids and the design of the devices, Dr. Barrow says. “Vaping devices originally looked like cigarettes. Now they look like a USB device. You can charge them in the USB port of a laptop.”

What can you do as a parent?

“The best thing is to have open communication about vaping and what the harms are,” Dr. Barrow recommends.