Vaping: A Youth Epidemic

Girl holding blue vape pen to her lips

Electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes, e-cigs, vapes, JUULs—no matter what you call them, these devices are popping up everywhere, and their explosion in popularity has created a huge public health threat for teens and young adults.

A modern update to traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes deliver a heated liquid, often containing nicotine, in the form of a vapor that the user then inhales. With major companies like JUUL offering youth-friendly vapor flavors (such as fruit, candy, soda, pastry, and mint) and creating sleek, discrete devices that boast a trendy look, it’s not surprising that these products have attracted a massive following of young people.

Vaping has gained popularity so quickly that, according to the FDA’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, high-school and middle-school use of e-cigarettes increased by 78% and 48% respectively from 2017 to 2018, and the number of young users is continuing to climb rapidly.

Mainstream digital media has become a driving force to encourage and normalize vaping among young people, with ads appearing on major social media channels and popular celebrities such as Sophie Turner and Miley Cyrus often photographed with their vape in hand.

The corresponding jump in use of these products and the potential health implications are worrisome. Before the rise of vaping, the use of traditional forms of tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah, or chewing tobacco) among teenagers and college students had seen a major decline. Now that vaping companies have taken the pop-culture world by storm, tobacco use among teens and young adults is back on the rise for the first time in decades. The CDC found that more than 1 in 4 high-school students reported using a tobacco product in 2019.

So why is this so problematic? Since e-cigarettes are a relatively new phenomenon, the FDA is only just beginning to regulate the production, dosage, and sale of these products. While we don’t have a lot of information about the long-term health effects of vaping, initial research suggests that vaping is likely to be associated with many health problems, such as increased risk of heart attacks, and lung problems.

Vaping also puts young users at risk of addiction which can continue throughout their lives. Another vaping problem is the addition of THC (the hallucinogenic chemical in Marijuana) to vaping extracts. Since products containing THC are often not regulated and the potential chemical interactions are still not fully understood, there is minimal protection to users from this additive.

Current evidence suggests that e-cigarettes release toxins that can cause physical harm, however further research is needed to determine the long-term effects of vaping on health. Most health professionals agree that no one under the age of 18 should use tobacco products of any kind.

As vaping becomes a more acceptable part of youth culture, increasing numbers of kids and young adults are becoming dangerously attached to their vapes. This is especially evident at alcohol-centric social events such as those on college campuses. “It has just become such a big part of going out culture,” says University of Virginia freshman Carolin Fabian about her experience with attitudes toward vaping in college.

“Now everybody is vaping, thinking it’s so much healthier than smoking cigarettes, but I’ve witnessed friends start shaking and sweating after not hitting their vape for 45 minutes. They have to leave during classes to vape in the bathroom.” Carolin’s experience will likely sound familiar to high-school and college-aged youth around the country. If current trends continue, we can expect to see a new wave of tobacco-related health and addiction problems related to vaping. There is a vital need to raise awareness about the dangers of vaping, especially for young users, and we must make timely resources available to help those who may already be addicted to vaping. If you know someone who is struggling with a vaping addiction, here are some resources that may be able to help them:

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