Vaping has increased significantly in middle and high school students within the past five years. A recent survey of 6th, 8th and 10th grade students in five Texas cities, including Austin, revealed some disturbing misperceptions (see sidebar). This is why it’s important for parents to know how to talk to their children about vaping.
Vaping is inhaling and exhaling the vapor made by a vaping device. These devices are known as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS). They include electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes, electronic cigars, e-cigars, electronic hookah, e-hookah, hookah pens and vape pens. These products have evolved since they were introduced in the United States in 2007.
- . First generation vaping products look like cigarettes. They have a light at the end that lights up when the user puffs. Battery life is shorter, and they usually cost less than products from later generations.
- Second generation products include vaporizer (vape) pens. They are tall and slim like pens or laser pointers and come in a wide variety of colors and designs. These can be refilled with e-juice.
- Third generation devices are larger and come in different shapes, designs and colors. Some look like a slim bottle. Others look like a thick cell phone. They include electronic options so the user can customize the device, such as increasing the voltage. Particles from third generation products are smaller and can be inhaled deeper in the lungs.
There are three basic components in a vaping device:
- Battery—provides power to make vapor; can be either disposable or rechargeable
- Atomizer—uses power from the battery and heats up the e-juice to make vapor
- Cartridge—contains the liquid (e-juice) to be atomized
E-juice is a liquid made of flavoring chemicals, carrier solvents (propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine) and nicotine. The concentration of nicotine can vary from 0 to 36 mg per puff. One study of 35 cartridges identified that the concentration of nicotine stated on the label and the actual amount of nicotine in the e-juice varied by as much as 89 percent. As a result, the user could be getting a higher dose of nicotine without knowing it. Many students are not aware that nicotine is addictive or that vaping products contain nicotine.
When to Talk to Your Child About Vaping
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests talking to your child about the dangers of vaping and tobacco use as soon as your child can understand—usually around 5 years old. A good time to start a conversation is when you are with your child and see someone using an e-cigarette or when you pass by a vape shop when walking or driving. Another good time is when you see an e-cigarette advertisement on the Internet or in a magazine.
How to Explain the Dangers
E-cigarettes and other vaping products are not safe. Many people think they are inhaling harmless water vapor. The vapor is not harmless.
- Nicotine can harm how the brain develops. The brain keeps developing until a young adult is about 25 years old. Using nicotine at a young age can make it hard to concentrate or learn. Children’s brains are more vulnerable to nicotine than older people’s brains. Using nicotine at a young age may make it easier to become addicted to other drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine.
- Chemicals in the flavoring can cause harm. More than 7,760 different flavors are advertised. Under FDA guidelines, the flavoring chemicals found in these solutions are “food safe” and “generally recognized as safe.” However, this certification is based on ingesting them—not inhaling them. Several studies have found the presence of certain flavorings that are linked to serious lung disease.
- The vapor can contain ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep in the lungs. A recent study identified nanoparticles in the vapor capable of causing acute injury to cells in the lungs.
- Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead can also be present.
Misperceptions About E-Cigarettes from Texas Students
- More than half of students surveyed said e-cigarettes are“not at all” addictive.
- Students perceived that e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes, but didn’t recognize that e-cigarettes could cause harm.
- Students reportedly thought fruit flavored e-cigarettes had fewer health risks than nonflavored e-cigarettes.
Source: Flavorings and Perceived Harm and Addictiveness of E-cigarettes among Youth (2016)
A great resource for parents is available on the Surgeon General’s website. To download a copy of “Talk with Your Teen About E-cigarettes: A Tip Sheet for Parents,” visit E-cigarettes.SurgeonGeneral.gov.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer who splits her time between Austin and Seattle.