Fortunately, it’s really only a small proportion of kids who are regularly vaping (estimated at about 1.8 percent of high school kids). But plenty of others are dabbling. Over the past few years the number of secondary school students who have tried vaping has increased significantly.
So, is it something we need to be worried about? Is vaping really that bad?
Dr Ginny Mansberg and Jo Lamble have a new book out, The New Teen Age. It’s an informative read that tackles everything from sleep to skin to sex to, you guessed it, habits like vaping. Below is an extract from their excellent book. The authors break down exactly what vaping is and give us an answer to our ‘is vaping really that bad’ question. Because, like everything when it comes to raising teens, we just want to know: should we worry?
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Extract from The New Teen Age by Dr Ginni Mansberg and Jo Lamble.
The New Teen Age
Often called vapes or juuls (after one especially popular brand), electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are little devices that heat liquid, often in the form of ‘pods’ (as used in a coffee machine!). The liquid sometimes – but not always – contains nicotine, which is turned into a vapour and then inhaled. The use of ‘vapes’ is very popular, especially among teenagers, who can go online and easily buy anything they want in that area.
‘E-cigarettes are perceived by young people as a “cool new gadget” and “safer than smoking”,’ researchers wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2020. Apart from the ‘coolness’ of the gadgets themselves, the liquid that is vaped comes in cool varieties such as fruit or soft-drink flavours that are directly aiming to appeal to young people.
The latest Australian data from the 2017 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug Survey showed that 13 per cent of teens had used an e-cigarette at least once. Of these, almost half (48 per cent) had never smoked a traditional cigarette. But that data is so old now and – at least anecdotally – vaping numbers are rising exponentially. Drug researcher and educator Paul Dillon, author of Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs, educates on illicit drug use in high-school children. He tells me the numbers of vapers have doubled or even tripled since that 2017 study.
So prevalent has vaping become in children that in July 2020 a group of Sydney school principals banded together and wrote to parents to alert them to the issue. New South Wales Secondary Principals’ Council president Craig Petersen was reported to have said that vaping had become a major issue for schools. These devices are now so clever that, apparently, some kids are vaping in the classroom!
Some good suggestions here: How to help teens take care of their health
Recent laws have made it illegal in Australia to sell vape products to anyone under 18, and vapes can be seized if they are found in the hands of an under-18 year old.
Is vaping really that bad?
Contrary to the way they’re marketed, vapes are not safe. For the kids who are vaping or ‘juuling’ nicotine, if they vape too much they can get acute nicotine poisoning that will see them throwing up uncontrollably for hours. Paul Dillon told me most emergency departments see at least one case a month of nicotine overdose in teens who are vaping. Each ‘pod’ contains about 200 inhalations of 5 per cent nicotine. While you simply can’t overdose on a traditional cigarette, it’s very possible if you just keep juuling.
But concerns have also been about the – largely unregulated – liquids and pods that are available. They are found to contain dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde and heavy metals. Plus, there was a spate of deaths in the United States from an additive – thought to be vitamin E acetate – in vaping liquid, which basically caused respiratory failure. Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia issued this statement on vapes: ‘In 2014 the World Health Organization called for their use to be banned in public places and workplaces, as there was evidence that they increased the levels of toxins and nicotine in the air, adversely affecting those around them.’
Research suggests that the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping products by teens could lead to an increase in cigarette smoking over time. So, while it’s used as a tool to help some smokers to quit, when it comes to teens, it looks more like a ‘gateway’ to starting smoking.
Teens who vape are also more than three times more likely to move on to marijuana than youths who never try vaping. Recently we have seen an explosion in teens using cannabis in their e-cigarettes.
As we are writing this, it’s all pretty new and we’re still trying to get our heads around whether vaping marijuana is any different to smoking it. Regardless, we can’t imagine you’d find too many experts who are supportive of the habit.
Text from The New Teen Age by Dr Ginni Mansberg and Jo Lamble. Murdoch Books RRP $32.99.