When surveyed in 2018, approximately four million middle and high school students said they had vaped within the past 30 days. While vaping is considered less harmful than smoking cigarettes, it still presents its own set of short- and long-term health risks.That's why it's important for children and their parents to understand vaping—including products and ingredients—as well as its potentially life-threatening consequences.
While anyone can identify a conventional cigarette and the smell of its lingering smoke, the odor produced by vaping products is usually minimal and sometimes almost candy-like. Brands allegedly market their products to adolescents by including playful fruit or mint flavors that help camouflage the taste of nicotine or THC in the product. The brands also reportedly use youthful advertising and packaging to target teens.
E-cigarettes and vaping devices come in a variety of styles and sizes, most mimicking USB flash drives, pens or flashlights with removable parts.
Whether vaping for nicotine or THC, users aren't fully aware of the ingredients in the products they buy, especially if they come from smoke shops, friends, dealers or online. The recent outbreak of lung-related illness and injury that hospitalized more than 2,600 and led to 60 deaths has been linked to the discovery of Vitamin E acetate, an additive used in THC-based oils to dilute the product that sticks to the lungs.
Symptoms of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) include: shortness of breath, persistent cough, chest pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and fatigue.
An increased risk of cavities, gum disease, gingivitis and tooth loss are also common, whether from ingredients resulting in cavity-causing bacteria to stick to the teeth and gums or an erosion of them, according to Dr. Mira Albert of the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry.
Excessive nicotine consumption can also have adverse effects on brain development in adolescents, which continues through 25 years old.
Changes in behavior
According to Dr. Nadine Cohen, CareMount Medical Internist and Adolescent Medicine specialist, vaping users may experience noticeable changes in behavior including mood swings and a short temper. "A child or teen who was normally even keeled may start to demonstrate mood swings which are unrelated to hormonal or pubertal changes," Dr. Cohen says.
Other changes include poor performance in school and changes in appetite or body weight.
Talking to your teen
So you've discovered your teen is vaping, and now it's time to talk to them. Confronting your child about a dangerous habit isn't easy. After all, they are teenagers. Being up front and truthful about vaping and its dangers is key.
"The most important thing parents can do is have open lines of communication with their teen and educate them on the risks and stats," says Dr. Albert. "Let them know that vaping is a relatively new danger and while we are sure of some of the health risks, we do not have any long-term data on just how dangerous abuse of e-cigarettes will be. Parents should talk to their teens about strategies on how to say 'no' and how to exit high-pressure situations."