By Melisa Damcevska, Preventionist I
The popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or “vapes”, has exploded over the past several years.
Introduced into the US marketplace over a decade ago, the use of these devices has skyrocketed, particularly among youth. Vaping, according to a Partnership for a Drug-Free Kids, is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol or vapor from an e-cigarette device. The term “vaping” comes from this vapor that is released, different from the smoke emitted from a traditional cigarette. These devices consist of four main parts: a cartridge to hold the e-liquid, a heating element known as an atomizer, a battery, and a mouthpiece to inhale (Partnership for a Drug-Free Kids).
Vaping was originally intended as a less harmful option for adult smokers; however, the craze has quickly been adopted by youth across the country for a variety of reasons. Boredom, curiosity and the urge to experiment, the marketing of fruit and candy flavors appealing to youth, and the rise in popularity of “cloud competitions” in which individuals compete to perform vaping tricks have all been cited as reasons youth have taken up vaping.
While e-cigarettes and vaping is an emerging phenomenon, the use of these devices can be particularly harmful to youth and young adults who do not already engage in smoking. This is due to the ongoing brain development in youth and the addictive potential of nicotine. Nicotine use before the brain is fully developed can rewire the brain and make an individual more likely to become addicted to the substance and contribute to problems with learning, concentration and impulse control. Also, teens and young adults who vape are almost 4 times as likely as their non-vaping peers to begin smoking traditional cigarettes, according to a review published online in JAMA Pediatrics. In other words, youth who begin vaping move on to traditional cigarettes at a higher rate than those youth who never start.
In New Jersey, the sale and distribution of e-cigarette and vaping products – or tobacco products in general – is illegal to anyone under the age of 21. However, youth still have access to these products through other sources, such as from a friend or ordered online. The signs of vaping can be subtle, but they include equipment such as devices that resemble flash drives, pods, or product packaging. Other signs may be an unexplainable sweet scent, increased thirst and frequent nosebleeds as some of the chemicals in these products dry out the mouth and nasal passages, decreased caffeine use, and an increase in wheezing or coughing.
So what can parents and guardians do to safeguard their youth against these products?
Begin by knowing the facts, such as the potential for addiction with nicotine, especially on a youth’s brain, and how these products are marketed and used. Understand why youth begin using e-cigarettes and how the curiosity towards these products can quickly turn into a habitual use or dependence. Having conversations when the topic arises – such as letters from school about vaping policies, someone vaping on television or passing a smoke shop can open the lines of communication. Talking to youth about substance use – particularly one that is growing so greatly in popularity – can better prepare them to make healthier choices in the long-term to lead happy and healthy lives.
Source: Partnership for a Drug-Free Kids
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