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Teen vaping rates surge despite health risks

Vaping devices, also known as e-cigarettes or electronic vapor products (EVPs), are often marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes and attract many users with their diverse flavors.

However, these devices are far from harmless. They contain nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin, flavorings, and potentially dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde and various metals.

Exposure to these substances can lead to serious health issues, including respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

Furthermore, a severe lung condition has been linked to vaping, particularly due to the use of vitamin E acetate, an additive in some THC-containing e-cigarettes.

An alarming trend in teen vaping

Despite the known risks, vaping has seen a dramatic increase among U.S. adolescents. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine conducted a study using data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey which included participants from ninth to 12th grade.

The team observed trends among 57,006 subjects from 2015 to 2021. The findings revealed significant and concerning rises in daily usage of electronic vapor products.

In 2015, only 2% of adolescents reported daily use of EVPs. By 2019, this figure had jumped to 7.2% – more than a threefold increase.

Although there was a slight decline to 5% in 2021, possibly due to COVID-19-related lockdowns and remote schooling, the numbers remain alarmingly high.

Disparities in usage

The study highlighted not only the rise in general usage but also interesting shifts in demographic patterns.

Initially, in 2015, more boys (2.8%) were using EVPs compared to girls (1.1%). By 2021, this trend reversed with 5.6% of girls vaping compared to 4.5% of boys.

Usage rates among different races also varied, with white teens showing the highest increase in vaping rates.

Potential consequences of vaping

Dr. Charles H. Hennekens, the first author of the study, warned about the severe implications of vaping.

“EVP use increases risks of nicotine addiction, drug-seeking behavior, mood disorders, and long-term risks of avoidable premature morbidities and mortality,” he explained.

Moreover, vaping could serve as a gateway to cigarette smoking, which continues to be a major cause of preventable death globally.

Dr. Panagiota “Yiota” Kitsantas, another researcher involved in the study, emphasized that nearly all e-cigarettes in the U.S. contain nicotine, posing significant addiction risks.

“EVP use is not a safer alternative to smoking but may have contributed to the decline in regular tobacco product use. However, it also introduces new health risks, including nicotine addiction,” noted Dr. Kitsantas.

The need for targeted interventions

Given these alarming trends, the researchers advocate for targeted interventions to address the rising vaping rates among adolescents. They suggest mass media campaigns and peer interventions to counteract the social norms that promote such risky behaviors.

“Clinical interventions could include routine screening for vaping and nicotine dependence during adolescent health assessments as well as counseling and tailored cessation programs,” said Dr. Hennekens.

While there has been a decline in traditional cigarette smoking among U.S. teens, the introduction and rise of electronic vapor products (EVPs) pose new public health challenges.

These findings underline the need for continuous research and proactive measures to protect young individuals from the allure and dangers of vaping.

When did teens start vaping?

Vaping became popular among teens in the early 2010s. Electronic cigarettes were first developed in the early 2000s and introduced to the U.S. market around 2007.

Initially marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes for adults looking to quit smoking, these products quickly caught the attention of younger demographics.

By the early 2010s, as vaping devices became more sophisticated and flavors more appealing, their use among teenagers began to rise significantly.

This trend was exacerbated by aggressive marketing, which often targeted younger audiences with social media campaigns and appealing flavors, leading to widespread use among teens throughout the decade.

The United States has one of the highest rates of teen vaping. This is due in part to the early introduction and widespread availability of e-cigarettes. Other countries have also reported increases in teen vaping, but the prevalence in the U.S. is notably high.

The study is published in the journal Ochsner Journal.


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