The Risks of Teen Vaping

Teenagers and risk-taking often go hand-in-hand. The teenage brain is at a critical stage of human development that is somewhat wired to live-in-the-moment and do things just-for-attention or fun. The frontal cortex, responsible for reasoning and thinking before we act, is a part of the brain still maturing well into early adulthood. Despite profound educational efforts to provide teens with information necessary to make good decisions, simply by nature adolescents take more risks than any other age group. It’s not that education isn’t working (or important) or that teens can’t evaluate the risks of decisions. For teenagers the susceptibility to peer influence and intense desire to fit-in, combined with the risk-taking nature of the brain sometimes leads teenagers to make poor choices, even when they know better.

One very common risk-taking behavior for teens of today is the use of E.N.D.S. (electronic nicotine delivery systems) also commonly referred to as “vaping” or “e-cigarettes”. In the most recent Monitoring the Future Study (2018) by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “37.3 percent of 12th graders reported -any vaping- in the past 12 months, compared to just 27.8 percent in 2017”.

The evolution of the cigarette has swept our nation. No longer do teenagers have to worry about the smell of smoke from a traditional combustible cigarette lingering on their clothing, in their hair, or on their breath. The aerosol produced by many E.N.D.S. smells like the usually sweet-candy-flavored e-liquids, doesn’t last on the body, and dissipates quickly in the air. Many teens are attracted to the trendy, new technological evolution of the cigarette as most new vape devices are sleek, fit in the palm of your hand, and can be hidden easily in a bookbag or purse.

While there is debate about the aerosol from these devices being “safer” than the smoke from a traditional combustible cigarette, it is important to remember that when vape products first hit the market they were not regulated by our government. This means that they were marketing in any way they wanted, to anyone they wanted, claiming anything they wanted (factual or not). Thankfully as of August 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a rule extending their regulatory authority over the manufacture, import, packaging, labeling, advertising, promotion, sale, and distribution of all tobacco products, including E.N.D.S. (U.S Food and Drug Administration, n.d.). Another key point to remember is that vaping hasn’t been around nearly long enough to isolate and fully know the direct effects of inhaling the aerosol on the body over time. It took us years to conduct the research that we have linking the 7,000 chemicals (70 of which are known carcinogens) from combustible cigarette smoke to cancer.

Regardless, it is impossible to debate one of the biggest health concerns involving the vaping of e-liquids that contain nicotine is nicotine addiction itself. Drug addiction is a disease of the brain characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behaviors despite negative outcomes. Nearly 9 out of 10 lifetime cigarette smokers began before the age 18 (Youth and Tobacco Use, 2019). There is no debate that nicotine is a highly addictive substance, especially to the young and developing teenage brain, whether it is inhaled from a cigarette or from a vape product.

Vaping e-liquids with nicotine puts nicotine into the body which can slow brain development and affect learning, memory, concentration, self-control, attention, and mood. Inhaling the aerosol from these devices can irritate the lungs and potentially lead to smoking cigarettes and/or other forms of tobacco use. Even more scary, nicotine in the developing teenage brain can alter brain chemistry and increase the risk of developing addiction to other drugs later in life. Ultimately, health experts have reported cases of serious lung damage and even some deaths in people who vape.

Providing factual information is the key to empowering children and teenagers to make healthy decisions for themselves throughout their lifetime. Drug Education programs for students in a variety of grades from the Byrnes Health Education Center, including “Be Smart, Don’t Start”, “Drugsmart, “Huffin’ ‘n’ Puffin’”, “Drugs: What’s the Big Deal”, and “Drugs: Dilemmas and Decisions”, all focus on the healthy functions of the body while highlighting the dangerous effects of a variety of drugs on those body functions. The discussions of tobacco products in these programs, which traditionally revolved around cigarette smoking and chewing tobacco has evolved to include age-appropriate discussions on E.N.D.S. (vaping, e-cigs, etc.) as well. To learn more visit or call (717)-848-3064.