The Grapevine

Teen Vaping On The Rise: What Are The Risks?

It is hard to miss the fact that e-cigarette use — or vaping — has seen a significant rise in popularity among teenagers. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1 in 5 high school students had taken up the habit.

The trend was acknowledged once again in its latest report, suggesting that e-cigarette use increased from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent among high school students and from 3.3 percent to 4.9 percent among middle school students during the 2017-18 period. 

In a press statement, Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, expressed plans to create strong interventions as he fears that the youth trends will continue in 2019. 

Being subject to immense debate, the effects of vaping on younger age groups are not fully understood as of yet. While they are not as harmful as conventional cigarettes, they do contain nicotine — an addictive chemical which could leave a harmful impact on the developing brain.

The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain that plays an important role in our emotions and impulses. When it comes to teenagers, this part of the brain is particularly vulnerable to nicotine since it does not finish developing until the age of 25.

The chemical can affect the growth of connections in the brain, particularly the regions that control learning and attention, as Dr. Jon Ebbert of the Mayo Clinic notes. "Some e-cigarette vapor contains ingredients that could be toxic, including nickel, tin, lead, benzene, and formaldehyde," he wrote on its website.

We do not have a clear idea about the long-term effects of these substances since e-cigarettes have only been in use for 15 years or so. Another long-term concern asks whether these devices could potentially become a gateway to using tobacco cigarettes.

However, research suggests the opposite — vaping may actually be the reason why tobacco cigarettes have seen a dramatic decrease in popularity among the youth over the current decade.

This was supported by a recent study from the United Kingdom, showing that e-cigarettes, combined with behavioral counseling, was more effective in helping smokers quit compared to traditional treatments.

Gottlieb has also acknowledged that e-cigarettes can help as an effective cessation tool for adult smokers. But the bottom line, he emphasized, was the lack of justification for non-smokers to be experimenting with these devices, especially those who are still young enough to be in school.

"We'll continue to take steps to try to investigate the root causes of this spike in youth e-cigarette use and arrest the momentum of these trends, in particular, by ensuring these products are sold in ways that make them less accessible and appealing to youth," he stated.