Quit Before You Start

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on June 28, 2019

Quick Facts

  • Nearly nine out of 10 adult smokers start by age 18.
  • Virginia lawmakers hope to minimize teens' access to tobacco by raising the legal age for purchasing it to 21.
  • The law takes effect as of July 1, 2019 and includes vaping and Juul cartridges as well as cigarettes and cigars.

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Many teenagers are vaping—and potentially putting their health at risk.

Vaping, as you probably know, is inhaling vapors from e-cigarettes. The vapors are produced by heating nicotine extracted from tobacco and other chemicals.

Unfortunately, it’s a growing trend. Vaping has spiked in recent years and is now practiced by 15 percent of high school students, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

More teens today actually use e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes. Often they’re attracted by an assortment of flavors like mango, mint, Belgian waffle or peanut butter cup. Some of the packaging even looks like juice boxes or candy.

young person with open hand holding e-cigarette juul vaping products
Legislators hope that raising the legal age for these nicotine-containing products to 21 will delay younger teens' first exposure to them.

Why are health officials concerned? After all, e-cigarettes are often promoted as a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, or as a way to wean yourself from cigarettes.

But researchers lately have found they pose many of the same dangers, including exposure to nicotine, which is highly addictive. This may also explain why a recent survey indicated that teenagers who vape are much more likely to smoke later in life.

A new type of vaping called Juuling in particular is raising concerns. It involves Juul, a vaping device that resembles a flash drive and can be charged in a USB port accounted for 33 percent of the e-cigarette market as of late 2017, according to a report from Wells Fargo.

Aside from being trendy and new, each Juul cartridge—which lasts about 200 puffs—has as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.

And although the FDA has banned minors from buying e-cigarettes, including Juul devices, teens are still managing to get their hands on them.

Exposure to Cancer-Causing Compounds
“Scientists recently discovered that teens are inhaling at least five toxic (poisonous) cancer-causing compounds when they vape,” the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for Teens reported in April.

“Many of these compounds are also found in tobacco cigarettes,” NIDA said.

Many teenagers are unaware that vaping and Juuling are essentially just other forms of smoking.

Compounds found in e-cigarettes or flavorings were said to include:

  • Acrylonitrile, used in making plastics and adhesives and considered “extremely poisonous in large doses”
  • Propylene oxide, which can irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory tract and depress the central nervous system
  • Crotonaldehyde, a poisonous and highly flammable liquid
  • Acrylamide, used in treating wastewater, including sewage, and which may increase the risk for several types of cancer
  • Formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer
  • Diacetyl, which can harm the lungs

“These chemicals are found in small amounts in e-cigarettes, so we aren’t sure yet how much you’d need to inhale to be in danger,” NIDA added.

But how many parents want to run the risk?

Teenagers Are Especially Vulnerable
When it comes to nicotine, teenagers are especially vulnerable. They’re at risk for “long-term, long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine,” the Surgeon General has stated.

These risks are said to include nicotine addiction, mood disorders, an impaired ability to pay attention or learn and reduced impulse control.

Carilion Clinic has also urged caution about using any type of e-cigarette.

“Studies show that teenagers who try e-cigarettes are more likely to develop the habit of smoking regular cigarettes, and more recent data would suggest a seven-fold increased risk of smoking later in life, and exposing themselves to all the health risks that entails,” said Edmundo Rubio, M.D., chief of Carilion Clinic's Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

E-cigarettes are promoted as a way to quit cigarettes, but they pose many of the same dangers. 

“Vaping also allows teenagers to breathe in a variety of carcinogens,” he noted. “We just don’t know yet what effect this will have on their developing minds and bodies.”

Additionally, Dr. Rubio warns that a potential link between e-cigarette use and asthma has yet to be explained.

Dr. Rubio recommends that parents talk to their teens about the potential dangers, since many teenagers appear unaware that vaping (or Juuling) is essentially just another form of smoking.

What else? Encourage your teen not to succumb to peer pressure and to vape just because his or her friends are doing it.

And if your teenager believes e-cigarettes are merely fun and harmless, as many high schoolers do, it’s definitely time for that talk.

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More information about tobacco and nicotine from Carilion Living:

Smoking: Kick the Habit

Get Ready, Get Support, Get Healthy

Teens, Vaping and Smoking