How Does Vaping Impact Teens?
With middle schoolers hooking up their friends to a wide range of camouflaged devices that look like pens or computer parts, vaping – the inhaled ingestion of a chemical vapor, one often filled with nicotine – is frighteningly common in school hallways across the country.
“We talk about it one-on-one and share perspectives in health classes, but vaping still comes up a ton,” said Jeremy Atkins, ACT, an addiction counselor and prevention coordinator from Avera St. Luke’s Hospital in Aberdeen.
Starting at School
At school, at home or out in the community, it’s not easy to identify kids in the act of vaping. Some devices are even shaped like everyday items a teen might carry, such as a pen.
“We’ve seen vape devices that look like boxes of cookies, and with their sweet flavors, it’s really troubling. They are obviously aimed at young people, and that marketing approach is something we talk about with kids,” Atkins said. “We are hopeful to make parents more aware of the vape culture and these threats. After all, we’re only with kids for a few hours each week in the classroom, or a few minutes in the halls through the day.”
Discussions and Debates
While decades of research have proven the toll that tar and cigarette smoke take on the lungs and heart, since vaping has not been prevalent for long, those hard facts are not as readily available.
“One point we make when kids say vaping is better than smoking is that the only thing we really should be putting into our lungs is oxygen,” he said. “Kids have heard about popcorn lung or wet lung – but we remind them that these chemicals have no benefit whatsoever in their development.”
The nicknames popcorn lung and wet lung refer to two serious conditions:
- Wet lung is actually acute respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) and cases linking it and vape devices have been reported. Blood vessels in the lung begin to leak and the buildup of fluid can lead to coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain. Untreated, it can lead to hospitalization, and in some cases, the use of a ventilator.
- Popcorn lung is a nickname for bronchial disorder that hurts the smallest airways in the lungs, leads to a cough and shortness of breath and is often linked to a wide range of chemicals, possibly including those found in e-cigarettes or vapes.
In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General reports that youth and young adults are at risk for long-term, long-lasting effects when their developing brains are exposed to nicotine.
These risks include nicotine addiction, mood disorders and permanent lowering of impulse control. Nicotine also changes the way synapses are formed, which can harm the parts of the brain that control attention and learning. Kids need more education and trust-building relationships so they can avoid getting caught in a scary web of dependence.
“When I was a kid, it was smoking that caused concern. Now, with vaping, it’s more complex g but equally as addictive and dangerous,” said Atkins. “It’ll take a lot of conversations between kids, parents, teachers, counselors and health care professionals in order to stop this ongoing problem.”