by Dr. Carly Wilbur
University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital
Vaping refers to the inhalation of aerosolized particles of a drug (nicotine or marijuana) mixed with flavoring. Most vaping devices contain a battery for power, a heating element, a place to insert the drug-containing liquid that will be heated until it vaporizes, and a mouthpiece.
On the Rise
Vaping was initially developed to help adults quit smoking but has quickly become popular among teenagers. From 2011 to 2019, the CDC reported a 900% increase in vaping for high schoolers. And while current reports estimate about 27% of high schoolers have vaped or currently vape, 5% of middle schoolers admit to the same. Vaping is a $22.6 billion industry worldwide.
Impact on the Brain
On a chemical level, the nicotine salt delivered from a vape pen is far more powerful than the nicotine free base that cigarette smokers inhale. This makes vaping nicotine extremely addicting. Studies show that teens who vape are seven times more likely to smoke as adults. And more than half the high schoolers polled admitted to having had their first vaping experience at age 11 or younger.
The immature frontal cortex of a teenager’s developing brain is uniquely susceptible to the harmful effects of nicotine. Regular use can cause long-term irreversible deficits in memory, attention, and concentration, and also mood disorders and permanent lowering of impulse control. Tobacco use in adolescence can also prime the brain for addiction to other stimulants of abuse, like cocaine and methamphetamines.
The Surgeon General accurately labeled teen vaping an epidemic. And it’s a gravely dangerous one: Nicotine-related deaths kill more adult Americans every year than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drug abuse, murders, and suicides COMBINED. Make sure you talk openly every day with your kids. Preventative education on vaping is a must in every school, whether it is in health class or part of a science project. Vaping does not discriminate. Let’s work together to keep our kids from vaping. It might even save their lives.
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