Young Adults’ False Beliefs About Vaping

We’ve all seen those clouds of fruit-scented aerosol that young people and adults produce from devices that look like USB flash drives or clunky pens. These devices, known as e-cigarettes or vapes, heat a liquid solution that contains nicotine, flavoring and chemicals to create an aerosol. These vapors can have both short- and long-term health impacts.

Vaping is Not Addictive

While it is true that e-cigarettes don’t contain the harmful chemicals and substances found in traditional cigarettes, they do still contain nicotine—an addictive substance. Research has shown that nicotine is almost as addictive as heroin or cocaine, and it can be difficult to quit no matter what kind of e-cigarette you use. Many young people use e-cigarettes because of appealing flavors, such as fruit, candy, desserts or mint. One study showed that 43% of youth who used e-cigarettes did so because of flavoring. The appeal of flavored e-cigarettes may also be related to the fact that they do not produce any smoke, which makes them less likely to trigger the social stigma associated with smoking. It could also be a function of how the device is used because how hard and long someone inhales will determine how much nicotine they will receive in their lungs.

Lastly, emotions are a huge driver in addiction (to anything, not just e-cigarettes). If you associate a certain food or activity with happiness or comfort, you will likely turn to it when feeling sad, stressed or emotionally uncomfortable. It is known as “emotional dependence,” and it can cause people to become addicted to various things, including e-cigarettes. Vaping also carries the danger of serious lung damage and diseases, including pneumonia, in addition to the risk of nicotine addiction. Parents and caregivers should be aware of these dangers and encourage their youth to make healthier choices. For example, an education program offers lesson plans, activity sheets and videos for middle and high school students about the health consequences of nicotine and e-cigarette use.

Vaping is Not Harmful

Many teens and young adults see vaping as a healthy alternative to smoking because of its lower health risks, but there are myths about vaping that you must know. They find e-cigarettes more appealing because of their flavor options, low per-use cost and lack of smoke. Furthermore, e-cigarettes are easier to hide than traditional cigarettes because they leave no odor, making them easy to use in public.

This perception is reinforced by media coverage that portrays vaping as a healthier and cleaner option than traditional smoking. Also, the packaging on e-cigarettes does not convey the health risks associated with nicotine use or the fact that it can lead to explosive tobacco use later in life. While some teens may start vaping to help quit smoking, many youths continue with the habit. This heightened popularity of these products, along with unexplained cases of lung illness and death attributed to vapor products, has led to the FDA cracking down on sales to young people and raising education efforts to address this public health crisis. Educating teens and their families is critical but not enough. 

Vaping is Not Harmful to Adults

Parents might feel frustrated when their teenagers are vaping because it’s not something they have ever smoked. They might also be worried that their kids are getting hooked on nicotine. But they should be reassured that studies show it is not as harmful to adolescents’ brains as smoking is. When kids and teens vape, they inhale steam from a liquid containing nicotine, which is heated by an electronic device (e-cigarettes, vape pens, JUULs). These devices are not sold to children but are easy for teenagers to buy online. Because they don’t produce a strong smell, e-cigarettes can be used discreetly in schools and other public places. Kids and teens often don’t know that e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive. Nicotine harms the teen brain, causing lower cognitive function and shortening attention spans. It can also cause anxiety, depression and impulsivity, especially in young women.

In addition, there is an emerging concern that vaping can cause “popcorn lung,” a rare but serious condition in which the chemical diacetyl damages bronchioles. It is a potentially dangerous contaminant found in some brands of vaping products and was associated with a higher prevalence of self-reported asthma in a recent study. 

Vaping is Not Harmful to Children

Most parents think their kids know vaping is bad for them, but many don’t. Only 16% of the parents in this poll believe their kids understand that vaping is addictive and could harm their long-term health. Liquid pods are heated by battery-operated e-cigarettes (vape pens) into a vapor that may be breathed. This vapor contains nicotine, chemicals and flavorings that make it appealing to teenagers who often use flavors such as mango, cucumber or crème. Many of these devices leave little or no odor and are small enough to hide in hand, making it easy for teens to sneak into school or other public places. As a result, teens are vaping at an alarming rate.

A growing body of research shows that nicotine is especially harmful to kids, affecting their brains and bodies in ways that can lead to addiction and other health problems later in life. Nicotine changes the way brain cells link, or synapses, which may impact young people’s mental health and raise the likelihood of developing a drug addiction. Educating young people about the dangers of tobacco and vaping is key. Ideally, this should start in schools so that they can help their peers avoid the same mistakes.

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