Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Vaping, Cigarettes, and Teens

There has been a good deal of newspaper coverage recently on  the use of e-cigarettes, particularly the JUUL brand, which is shaped like a USB flash drive and is popular among teens. Like other e-cigarettes (also called vaping devices), these are battery powered and heat a liquid containing nicotine to produce an aerosol that is inhaled by the user.

Why the focus on JUUL? As explained by Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the New York State Health Commissioner, in a recent communication to health care providers throughout the state, this brand of e-cigarettes is almost odorless and is small enough to be used discretely almost anywhere. Students have been reported using them in school bathrooms (no surprise there) and even in classrooms and hallways. The liquid in JUUL devices is contained in a small pod, each of which may have the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. What makes JUUL especially attractive to teens is the flavoring added to the liquid in the pods. These flavorings -- by some counts as many as 15,000 different ones, including fruit and candy flavors -- are highly appealing to young users.

What these young users don't consider is that no matter what flavor they may choose to use, each pod of liquid also contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. As Dr. Zucker notes, nicotine in any form can impair adolescent and young adult brain development, particularly those functions affecting impulse control, mood disorders, and attention and learning. Furthermore, while the vapor from the e-devices seems to be just harmless water vapor, it actually contains toxic chemicals and ultra-fine particles that enter the lungs.

Some adults have noted that all e-cigarettes can be used to help smokers quit, but evidence has shown that many adults use both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes in different situations. There can, however, be no question at all that e-cigarettes pose a danger to young people and that parents need to be aware that they are not just a harmless fad or novelty device. They are a gateway to smoking cigarettes and they are a danger on their own.

Current data from the CDC on smoking and its effects on health is something to share with your teen. As the CDC notes, each day, more than 3,200 people younger than 18 years of age smoke their first cigarette and, each day, an estimated 2,100 youth and young adults who have been occasional smokers become daily cigarette smokers. Your pediatrician or family doctor can be a valuable resource on both the dangers of e-cigarettes and smoking and ways to help users quit.

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