Good News! Cigarette smoking among teens has been steadily decreasing over the past 5 years. The bad news is, e-cigarette use in the meantime has tripled; 4.5% to 13.4% among teens (National Youth Tobacco Survey, sponsored by the FDA and CDC).
Furthermore, e-cig use or “vaping” among high schoolers and middle schoolers has surpassed ‘conventional’ cigarette smoking and now has become the preferred method of nicotine consumption among youth.
At this choking rate, the overall nicotine use in adolescents may become the highest in the past decade.
The Drag on E-cigs
Electronic cigarettes are a battery powered device, that heats up a liquid containing: nicotine, flavoring and other solvents into a vapor or mist, which is inhaled, hence the term ‘vaping’. This high-tech gadget emerged in 2007 and originally was developed for smokers as a nicotine cessation aid, to quit smoking.
Then the marketers “heroically” promoted their product as a carcinogenic-free, healthier alternative to tobacco smoking. You don’t need to quit- just switch!
The marketers were successful in convincing the public that vaping, is a safer, lower health risk alternative….and ‘poof ‘, e-cig sales skyrocketed and specialty ‘vaping’ stores appeared everywhere.
Not surprisingly, this rhetoric ‘filtered down’ to young people; if it’s safer for the older population, then it must be safer for us. In fact, the University of Michigan found, the majority of 12th graders surveyed, felt e-cigs are not harmful to their health (only 14.2%, felt it could be harmful).
This is very concerning to doctors, since there has been a growing body of data showing e-cigs causing harmful health effects and addiction, especially with teens.
To top it all off, the marketers furthered their “heroic action” and lit-up the market with a variety of flavors, to appease their customers, such as
Dr. Pepper, bubble gum and cotton candy….because middle age men would want these flavors, right!?
Harmful and Adverse Effects of Vaping
-Irritation and inflammation of throat, mouth and lungs
-Lightheadedness and dizziness
-Coughing, choking sensation, bleeding mouth
-Lung infections and diseases
-Cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and stroke)
-Nicotine overdose (By children directly ingesting the e-liquid)
-Proliferation of established cancer cells or tumors*
-Explosion/ burns by faulty devices
*Studies have not shown nicotine to cause cancerous cells or tumors, but there is evidence it accelerates the growth and spread of existing cancer cells. (Indiana University in Indianapolis is conducting lab studies on vaping health effects).
**In comparison to tobacco smoking, e-cigs do have less toxic chemicals and low levels of carcinogens. Although, brands widely vary in ingredients and amount of chemicals they contain, when tested in labs.
Nicotine Effects on a Youth’s Brain
The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that plays a role in emotion and impulse control. That area is not fully developed until 25 years old, which makes it very vulnerable to the influence of nicotine.
What nicotine does, is it stimulates the pleasure emotion, by opening the neuron’s gates and flooding the synapse (a nerve cell’s platform for communication) with ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters such as, dopamine and serotonin. The receiving neuron receptors are stimulated by these neurotransmitters and a “high effect” is produced. It only takes 7 seconds for nicotine to reach the brain and cause this effect.
After repeated exposure of nicotine, fundamental changes take place in the brain- making it difficult to release its neurotransmitters naturally. In an adolescent, it takes a significant less amount of nicotine, than an adult, for these changes to occur.
The reason why is nicotine interferes with the brain’s protein synthesis by hindering Elf2 activity (a protective protein). This leads to an increase in neural connections and receptors- that are influenced by ‘pleasure producing’ neurotransmitters. The more neuron connections and receptors, the more nicotine needed to get that “pleasure hit” and addiction sets in.
Interestingly, the Elf2 activity is not decrease as significantly in a fully develop adult brain, which is why adolescents tend to get addicted quicker and have a harder time quitting later. (Note: Cocaine has the same effect on the brain).
Research has also shown that nicotine can cause teens a variety of other behavioral problems, such as impaired attention, anxiety and depression.
Clear the Mist
The popularity of vaping is progressively on the rise. Just driving down US 135 in Greenwood, I quickly spotted 3 ‘vaping’ speciality shops. I do appreciate that e-cigs have helped smokers reduce their cigarette smoking and for some, eventually quit, but disturbed by the tripled increase use among our youth. We are trading one public health problem for another.
So discuss with your teens and children, that e-cigs are harmful to a young person’s developing body and brain, and are just as addictive, as their cigarette cousin.
Hopefully, in the next year, the rate of vaping among youth will be steadily decreasing, like the rate of smoking….and eventually vanish.