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Teens and Vaping

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

E-cigarettes came on the market about ten years ago. They were originally marketed as a way for adults to quit smoking regular cigarettes. However, one effect was that these e-cigarettes (vapes) became very attractive to teenagers. Some vapes are fruit flavored, with ads and social media directly targeting teens. The sleek packaging of some of these products added to the “cool factor.” Peer pressure and easy accessibility skyrocketed these e-cigs to extreme popularity. 

The federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, in cooperation with the University of Michigan, in 2018 polled American teens on their use of nicotine vaping devices. Teens in the survey were in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades. Results showed that the rise in vaping was the largest spike in 44 years! About 21% of high school seniors had vaped within the previous month, compared to 11% the year before. The survey also found that the teens thought that they were only vaping the flavoring, but all brands include nicotine. The vaping container also contains aerosol which is unsafe due to heavy metals and chemicals. In fact, the Center for Disease Control-National Youth Tobacco Survey found that e-cigarette use greatly increased between 2017 and 2018, with 3.6 million middle and high school students vaping regularly.

Teens are a vulnerable group, motivated by peer pressure. Vaping is considered cool and stylish, and the “forbidden” aspect increases its popularity. Adolescents don’t realize how vulnerable to addiction they are. The adolescent brain’s prefrontal cortex is still maturing, and this part of the brain affects impulse and judgment. The nicotine in e-cigarettes can make underlying mental health conditions worse, and it can also lead to depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity. Common withdrawal symptoms include irritability, disrupted sleep, increased moodiness, and extreme anxiety. It has been found that teens still vape as a self-soothing medication, even after stopping.  

A problem for teens is attempting to stop vaping once they are hooked. There is a need for long-term studies in determining how to taper down and stop using vapes. There is no known method for quitting as it’s not the same as adults quitting. Medication has not been approved for teens, as it has been for adults. It is difficult to measure the amount of nicotine inhaled and absorbed through vaping, and patches and prescriptions are not prescribed for teens. 

As a parent, educate yourself. Don’t scare your teen children, but involve them in conversations and attempt to get them to see the impulsive nature of their behavior and the possible long-term harm of vaping. Teens need to understand the importance of quitting e-cigs for their own good health. Vape Out programs have been initiated in January of 2019 in a few Long Island school districts. The emphases in these programs include peer-to-peer education, parent education, and an enforcement program. Teens are not suspended from school when caught, but must be able to discuss the harm of vaping and show school administrators that they know how to refuse e-cigs. It has been found that cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful in quitting. Yoga and meditation both help to decrease anxiety. Participation in sports can be useful as well.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at mc333@cornell.edu.

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