Teens and Vaping Dangers

Ask the Experts by

Sean Cassleman, M.D.

Q: I overheard my teen daughter and her friends talking about another girl at school vaping. I am concerned that my daughter will try vaping, should I discuss it with her? I know almost nothing about it, how can I approach her about my concerns?

A: Vaping is raising anxiety levels for parents of adolescents everywhere. There is reason to worry because vaping is a new delivery system for nicotine – an adversary that parents have struggled to keep their children away from for decades. Although e-cigarettes and tobacco products like cigarettes both contain nicotine, there are differences between the two. An appropriate response to the threat of vaping – and a quality discussion with your kids about it – is dependent on knowing the basics of e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices powered by batteries that deliver a nicotine-containing vapor. E-cigarettes do not all look the same, nor do they all have the same components. But they have some common functional parts, including a mouth piece, microprocessor/sensor, liquid cartridge, battery and atomizer. Inhaling at the e-cigarette’s mouthpiece signals the microprocessor/sensor to activate the atomizer, which turns the liquid into a nicotine vapor which is inhaled by the user at the mouthpiece. Although there are no standard ingredients for the liquid or “juice”, they are usually made up of nicotine, propylene glycol/glycerol, flavoring and water. There have been similar nicotine products in the past, but the modern e-cigarette was invented by a Chinese pharmacist in 2003. One of the most popular e-cigarettes is called the ‘Juul,’ which was released in 2015 and is extremely popular among teens. If no one told you, you might mistake the sleek design of the Juul for a usb flash drive.

E-cigarettes contain less tar and other carcinogens than cigarettes and are sometimes offered as an alternative for those trying to quit smoking. This is encouraging for people who are unable to quit using other conventional methods. But make no mistake: e-cigarette vapor still contains many carcinogens, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein.

We don’t know the exact long-term health risks of vaping. We can draw conclusions knowing what we do about nicotine and other carcinogens, but ultimately no one has yet studied what happens when people vape for long periods of time.

Don’t wait to talk to your adolescent about vaping. Some experts suggest beginning the conversation by asking your child what they think about vaping. Be careful not to be dismissive, because kids are tempted to use e-cigarettes for the nicotine buzz, flavorings, the rebellious appeal, etc. Gather information about vaping’s known risks and the unknown long-term health consequences. You know your young adult best, and your approach should be tailored to them.

Here are some main takeaways that teens should be aware of:

  1. E- cigarette vapor contains carcinogens and other toxic substances. It is not without risk.
  2. Nicotine is addictive and harmful on its own.
  3. We do not know the long-term health impacts of vaping.
  4. Vaping may lead to conventional tobacco use

Perhaps the best thing to tell your child about vaping is that we don’t really know exactly what happens to people who vape – but we do know not vaping is safer. Join me on 10/23 at the Grosse Pointe Academy for a detailed discussion. For more information visit familycenterweb.org.

Sean Cassleman, DO, is an internist at Ascension St. John. Ascension St. John is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

Vaping: What we Know, What we Don’t and Teenage Use
October 23, 2018
Grosse Pointe Academy, 171 Lake Shore, Grosse Pointe Farms
RSVP online at familycenterweb.org or call The Family Center 313.447.1374.

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