Teen Vaping is becoming an epidemic

What do we need to know and what can we do?
Guest Editorial

We are seeing a new national epidemic in our teenagers regarding E-cigarettes and vaping, and they are starting at earlier ages than even with cigarettes. 

Statistics show that many start at 13 or even younger and that since 2014 the number of teenagers using e-cigarettes has increased over 50 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Even though the legal age to buy them is 18 (or 21 in some cities and states), teens access them from older friends and family or online.

So why are they so dangerous and how does it affect us in Minnesota and in Rock County?


What are e-cigarettes and why are they dangerous?

Vaping is inhaling and exhaling vapor produced by an electronic cigarette, a battery-powered device that converts liquid into a vapor.

They deliver nicotine like a regular cigarette without the tobacco, burning, or carcinogen-laden smoke — which is why they are considered a safer alternative.

E-cigarettes also cost less than traditional cigarettes, as the initial cost for the unit is $30-$50 and then a set of four pods runs about $16, creating an average of $4, compared with $7 or more for a pack of traditional cigarettes.

Studies are proving that vaping is not safer than smoking.

E-cigarettes contain nicotine, glycerin, propylene glycol, natural oils, extracts and flavor. The non-nicotine ingredients are considered safe when eaten but the effect on lungs when they’re inhaled is the concern. 

As the liquid heats, it forms formaldehyde and other cancer-causing agents. It also delivers a higher concentration of nicotine, making it more addicting.

One pod contains as much nicotine as 200 puffs of cigarettes (a pack), and there is no control over the amount of nicotine that gets inhaled in just one puff.

Research continues into the content of these products and their effect on humans.


Juul and Blu

The two most popular vaping devices are Juul and Blu because of their creatively named flavors, such as cool mint, fruit medley, piña colada, crème brulee, mint chocolate and other exotic-sounding flavors.

But the flavoring has been found to cause a form of emphysema or COPD called “Popcorn Lung,” named for popcorn factory workers who developed lung issues after inhaling butter flavoring vapors.

The chemical diacetyl in the flavoring causes severe scarring of tiny airways in the lung, which interferes with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. 

The chemical is no longer used in popcorn flavoring and it’s banned in Europe. Yet, it’s still used in some flavored e-cigarettes.


So how does it affect teens?

Because their brains are still developing, nicotine can cause teenagers to become quickly addicted and can lead to more serious addictions, like cigarettes, binge drinking and the use of other drugs such as marijuana or cocaine. It can also disrupt attention and learning.

There is no amount of nicotine that is considered safe for teenagers. A recent study in Kansas and Miami found that young users were at increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis, which is also seen in tobacco smokers.


How do I know if my child is vaping or ‘juuling’?

Do you notice a sweet or fruity smell around your kids? Do you see strange pens or pencils or a new flash drive and different-looking battery chargers? Is your child suddenly thirstier and skipping caffeine? Do they have a “smoker’s cough,” sores in their mouths or nosebleeds that are not explainable?

Is your athletic child performing great for the first half of the game but by the second half is having trouble with breathing and endurance?


Is this a problem in Rock County and what can I do?

Yes, this is becoming an increasing problem in Rock County, and schools have reported confiscating devices and their chargers.

Parents can talk to school administration for information specific to their children’s potential exposure, and they should certainly talk to their own children about the dangers of vaping.

We can let our legislators know that we support Tobacco 21, which is working to raise the age of buying tobacco to 21 nationwide.

And, of course, we can all be informed. There are many resources at the www.health.mn.gov/ecigarettes website.


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