Vaping and E-Cigs: What You Need to KnowShelby Wall
E-cigarettes are relatively new – they’ve only been on the shelves in the United States for just over a decade. Because of this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is just now beginning to fully understand the long-term effects of vaping. There are many misconceptions surrounding e-cigs – some people believe that they’re harmless, or that they are milder than traditional cigarettes. As electronic cigarettes and vaping rapidly rise in popularity, consider the health implications of these new vehicles for nicotine.
E-Cigarettes and Vaping: The Basics
Before we discuss the harmful effects of e-cigs, we want to fully explain their makeup and use. E-cigs are electronic cigarettes. They heat a liquid into an aerosol, which the user then inhales. Usually, the liquid will contain nicotine along with flavoring and other additives. Because e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they are considered to be addictive.
An important note about vaping: the cartridges used in e-cigs contain a wide variety of nicotine concentrations. Those who have never smoked before can end up using – and becoming reliant on – high amounts of nicotine without realizing it.
In addition to nicotine, e-cigs can contain other potentially harmful ingredients, including:
- Ultrafine particles which can be inhaled into (and trapped in) the lungs
- Flavorants such as diacetyl, which has been linked to serious lung disease
- Volatile organic compounds
- Heavy metals, including nickel, lead, and tin
Teen Vaping: An Addictive Trend
As their use has skyrocketed over the last five years, there have been endless news stories about e-cigs. You’ve probably heard justifications for vaping, particularly regarding its use as a stop-smoking aid. While this can be a beneficial transition for many, it’s not an accurate reflection of the demographics who choose to vape. The reality is that e-cigs are much more commonly used by teens who have never smoked cigarettes before.
This trend is particularly insidious for one reason: adolescence is a time characterized by critical brain development. Nicotine exposure during one’s teenage years can lead to addiction and also harm the brain long-term. Until the age of 25, the brain is still referred to as “plastic” – this means that it is more impressionable and primed to create associations. Addiction is itself a form of learning, although its effects are overwhelmingly negative. By activating and over-activating the reward centers of the brain, nicotine and other substances effectively rewire how you think and behave. The Office of the U.S. Surgeon General also warns that the nicotine in e-cigarettes can prime teen brains for addiction to other drugs, such as cocaine.
How to Talk to Your Teen About E-Cigs
Today, more high school students use e-cigs than regular cigarettes. The use of e-cigarettes is also higher among high schoolers than adults.
We suggest you refer to the below guidelines to broach this subject with your adolescent child. A full tip sheet can be viewed on the Surgeon General’s website.
- Educate yourself. Compile information to back up your points, making sure that everything has been derived from credible sources.
- Set reasonable goals. Before you sit down with your child, remember that your goal is to have a conversation, not to give a lecture. Ready yourself to listen and be patient. Don’t worry about saying everything at once – you can divide the talk up into bits and pieces over time.
- Find the right moment. Approach the subject in a safe setting in a way that feels natural. Instead of confronting your teen by saying, “We need to talk,” instead ask their opinion about something you both observe (for example, walking by someone using an e-cigarette, seeing an ad for vaping, or passing a store display of e-cigs).
- Ask for support. If you’re having difficulty knowing where to start, don’t be afraid to reach out to other parents, your health care provider, or coaches for help reiterating your message.
- Keep the conversation going. By sharing facts and resources, you can remind your teen of the dangers of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products. If it was difficult for you to stop smoking, be open with them and share your experience! If you stumble across a useful study, send it their way.
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