Teenagers from all walks of life in the U.S., including Hispanic teens, are using e-cigarettes more than ever before. While recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations show that smoking among teens is still trending downward, the number of teens vaping keeps going up and up. The trend is troubling because although e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, we still don’t know all of the ways in which vaping could affect young people. Vaping still involves using nicotine, a highly addictive drug, and there is some evidence that vaping could lead to smoking later.
Vaping refers to the action of inhaling water vapor laced with nicotine from an electronic device called an e-cigarette. These were designed to help smokers quit. They give smokers a hit of nicotine and allow them to perform the routine of smoking without the harmful smoke. CDC reports show that the number of teens using e-cigarettes doubled in recent years. From the Monitoring the Future survey, we also know that 17 percent of high school seniors report vaping in the past month. Along with increased vaping, teen smoking rates are down nearly 50 percent.
The fact that fewer teens are smoking is a big deal. The number of people overall, and teens in particular, who smoke regularly has been dropping for years and this is a great thing for the health of individuals as well as for public health. Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., but fewer people are succumbing to this deadly habit. In spite of the encouraging news about smoking, experts are worried about the increase in the number of teens vaping. Some people who support the use of e-cigarettes may claim that they helped drop the number of smokers, even among teens. However, teen smoking rates were already in decline before e-cigarettes came on the market. Experts are worried that the rise in vaping could undo the positive changes we have been seeing in smoking rates. It is clear that inhaling the smoke of a tobacco cigarette is far worse for one’s health than inhaling the vapor from an e-cigarette, but studies on the safety of these devices are not conclusive. Teens could be at risk for health problems, not least of which is addiction to nicotine. Vaping means inhaling nicotine, the same addictive substance in cigarettes. If vaping among teens continues to rise, we could see record numbers of nicotine addicts. Researchers continue to investigate these products and are finding some previously hidden health problems. One study found that e-cigarette users inhale nanoparticles along with the vapor and nicotine and that these could cause inflammation that may lead to asthma, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. The inhaled vapor may also include traces of the solvents that were used to dissolve the nicotine. These include compounds that irritate the lungs and several that are cancer-causing. How harmful e-cigarettes are remains to be seen as more researchers work to uncover the truth about these devices. What we know for sure is that there are health risks associated with vaping and that teens are doing it more than ever before. Each year, more teens try e-cigarettes and put themselves at risk for health problems, nicotine addiction and a future smoking habit. The same resources that were put to use to lower rates of smoking now need to be applied to prevent teens from vaping.