Vaping Epidemic in Youth and Young Adults
What is vaping?
Vaping is a form of nontraditional smoking, it involves inhaling aerosol from a battery powered device. There are a variety of branded devices that fall under the category of vapes, such as e-cigarettes, mods, tanks, pens and pods. Some popular brands that you may see are Juul, Suorin and Vuse. Vapes operate by heating liquid substances (e.g., nicotine, marijuana) and producing vapor in lieu of smoke. Since this electronic smoking form produces a vapor, it can very easily go undetected by bystanders and fire detectors. Despite using a different form of substances and not using fire, vaping does produce serious mind and body altering effects, all of which are still unknown.
Vape devices were introduced to American retailers in 2007. Originally, vapes were marketed as a safe alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. They were said to support the cessation of cigarette smoking, and said to lack the health consequences that have been closely tied to other forms of smoking. Vapes have also been decorated with sweet and fruity flavors that provide a pleasing smell and taste. Due to vape marketing and a lack of product research, vaping has become a national health and addiction epidemic among youth and young adults. Studies report that vaping yields the largest rate of new adolescent users in the United States. In 2011, it was reported that nearly 5% of middle school students vape, and more than 20% of high school students have vaped more than once. Researchers are also finding growing rates amongst college students.
What are the consequences of vaping?
Despite the variety of available flavors and the convenience of smoking without detectable smoke, vapes do have dangerous chemicals and highly addictive substances, such as nicotine. 46% of vape users do not believe they are addicted to vaping, 41% believe they are somewhat addicted, and 13% believe they are absolutely addicted. Not only can vaping lead to unconscious addiction amongst its users, but also serious health consequences.
Vape users should discuss their use with their doctors before any surgical procedures. Vaping has shown to increase anesthesia risk during surgery, increase post-surgery pain, and delay the healing of wounds and bone fractures. Those who use vapes frequency should be aware that the inhalation of large quantities can lead to lung injury. Vaping damages the cells in lung tissues, triggers bronchitis symptoms, increases nasal mucus, increases cancer risks, and decreases gene expression. Vaping has also been negatively associated with memory, attention span, emotional regulation, executive functioning, learning and reward processing. It is important to note that youth and adolescents are especially vulnerable to the chemical effects of vape due to their developmental stage.
What are some protective factors against vaping?
A major protective factor against vaping is psychoeducation. It is crucial to re-educate the population on the latest evidence-based findings. Psychoeducation is especially important because vapes were originally marketed as non harmful. Health and research professionals may help build a protective foundation by paving the way forward with data collection and empirical studies. Many researchers have stated that the long-term effects of vape use are still unknown, but the short-term effects are fast-acting and detrimental. Another protective factor may be for responsible adults (e.g., teachers, parents, counselors, etc) to create a space for safe dialogue around vaping. It is important for users to discuss their consumption with their emergency contact persons, family and primary care doctors in case of medical emergencies. Discussions around social pressures are also significant as this is a major risk factor for youth and adolescents. The last option for establishing protective factors is to advocate for stricter marketing policies. This involves a reduction in marketing of attractive flavors, campaigning the effects and risks of vaping, and prohibiting marketing towards underage users. There are plenty of ways to protect the nation against vaping, psychoeducation, research, dialogue, advocacy, and more.