Dr. Graham King

Dr. Graham King

Vaping is the term often used to describe the act of using an electronic cigarette. E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid solution — usually but not always containing nicotine — turning it into a vapor that can be inhaled. If the base nicotine mixture is not palatable, many flavors, such as mint, apple and others, can make vaping attractive, especially to adolescents.

Unfortunately, today’s teens, and even tweens, know more about vaping than their parents. E-cigarettes and vaping are part of a trend going back at least eight years in the U.S. First publicized as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco, vaping caught on because it didn’t contain the carcinogens or tars found in most smoking tobacco products. Also, vaping was supposed to eliminate the dangers of secondhand smoke to those nearby. It all sounded pretty harmless in theory. However, they were wrong.

There are dangers associated with vaping:

  • No matter the delivery method, nicotine is addictive.

Studies have shown that it may be harder to quit a nicotine addiction than a heroin addiction. Most discussions about helping teens stop vaping fail to address that they may already be addicted. In many cases, teens at this phase may need replacement or medications, such as bupropion, to help curb the cravings that can be overwhelming. Those of you who have yourself, or have ever had a friend or family member try to stop smoking, know how difficult it can be. This is why, in certain situations, e-cigarettes are still considered an option for transitioning someone who has smoked tobacco for years to nonsmoking status.

  • The flavors and stabilizers in e-cigarettes can cause unknown inflammation to delicate lung tissue.

All one has to do is turn on the national news to hear about more and more cases where severe — sometimes irreversible — damage to the lungs, and in extreme cases even death, occurs in teens who were vaping. Adolescents often feel that bad things happen to everyone else, but the risks associated with vaping are real. Many teens are taking things a step further, adding cannabis, CBD oils and other dangerous additives to vaping devices. When patients show up to the emergency department in respiratory distress from vaping, it’s challenging for physicians to treat them. This is due to the difficulty in correctly identifying what they inhaled, especially when they are intubated or unconscious.

  • The length of time spent vaping can be much longer than smoking a standard cigarette.

Did you know most cigarettes are smoked within two to five minutes? E-cigarettes on the other hand can last up to 20 minutes, delivering more nicotine and damaging chemicals to the lungs. In addition, some vaping mixtures can contain 20 times the nicotine that a single cigarette contains.

  • Brain development can be affected.

Nicotine can affect concentration and brain development, according to information and data from a new report from the surgeon general. Also, nicotine use in young adults still can lead to other illicit substance use.

Talk about the dangers of vaping

Talk with your kids about the dangers of vaping, but also look for warning signs including:

  • Changes in emotions
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Scents of fruity odors on skin, breath and clothes
  • Strange cylinders, chargers or batteries lying around

Remember, it’s important to have conversations rather than suspicion and accusations. Encourage your teen to look into the warnings and media stories related to vaping, or reach out to your primary care provider with questions.

Many providers ask their patients about alcohol, drug use and smoking, yet forget to ask about vaping. Project for Teens is a local outreach program that provides support and education on the dangers of vaping.

It’s up to everyone to work together as a community to stop the young population from starting or continually using vaping products.

Graham King, M.D., is a family medicine physician with Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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