While e-cigarettes were once hailed as less harmful than traditional cigarette smoking, Tiffany Brown looks at evidence that vaping could be just as harmful.
Vaping refers to the use of e-cigarettes (also known as vape pens), which heat a liquid to a vapour state, which is then inhaled.
Inhaling the particulates, oxidising agents, aldehydes and nicotine contained in e-liquid aerosols (also known as vape juice) can affect the heart and circulatory system. Puffing on a vape can increase heart rate and blood pressure. Vape use has been linked with increased risk of stroke, heart attack, angina and heart disease. Toxicity, oxidation and inflammation can all occur in the body as a result of the inhalation of flavoured e-liquids; lung function can be impaired whether the vape juice contains nicotine or not. Vaping can have significant negative effects on oral health by increasing the risk of cavities, making the surface of teeth more prone to bacteria, increasing gum inflammation, and triggering irritation in the gums, mouth and throat. Vaping has also been linked with cell dysfunction, oxidative stress, and damage to DNA.
Other potential health effects of vaping include anxiety and depression, ADHD and conduct disorders, impotence, sleep problems, chronic bronchitis, potentially life-threatening lung damage, and impacts on learning and memory. E-cigarettes pose health risks, with or without nicotine, and experts warn the full effects of long-term vape use will not be known for several decades. Nicotine dependence is one of the main risks of vaping, and research has shown that young people who vape with nicotine are more likely to take up smoking combustible cigarettes in the future.
A 2021 report by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation (ARFNZ) in partnership with the Secondary Principals ’Association of NZ (SPANZ) surveyed over 19,000 Kiwi secondary school students, and found that 26 percent of students reported vaping, with 14 percent of students saying they’d smoked cigarettes in the previous week. Nearly 20 percent of students were vaping daily or several times a day, the majority with high nicotine doses. The results indicated students were vaping more in total, more often and at higher nicotine doses than in the previous year.
Chief Executive of ARFNZ Letitia Harding said while vaping could be useful to help adults transition away from traditional cigarettes, the survey showed that many young people are picking up high nicotine vapes without ever having smoked a cigarette, and quickly becoming addicted to nicotine. ARFNZ runs a vaping education website called Don’t Get Sucked In (DGSI) to inform young people about the dangers of vaping. The organisation would like to see limits on nicotine, restrictions on advertising and a ban on the sale of vaping products within a 1km radius of schools.
If your teen is vaping and you’d like to help them to stop, the key message from experts is to use a calm approach, keeping communication open. Overreacting to the issue could see your child clam up and refuse any discussion or help. Ideally, try to nurture an environment in which potentially contentious issues can be discussed without fear of judgment or retribution before the issue comes up. Schooling up yourself on the information about vaping and harms is also a big help.
With scant regulation on the industry so far, vape marketing is targeting youth who are likely ill-informed about the emerging evidence of potential harms. Encouraging your teen’s desire to be the best, healthiest version of themselves is a key reason you might use to explain why you’d prefer they quit the habit. Becoming addicted, risking effects on the brain, becoming a smoker in the future, loading up with toxins, affecting their sports involvement and costing money are all more good reasons to kick the vape.
5 Tips to help your teen quit vaping
- Why do you vape? Quitting is more likely to stick when you can keep coming back to the reason you want to stop
- Choose a day to quit, and tell all your supportive friends and family that’s the day
- Get rid of all your vaping supplies
- Get some supportive tech tools to help; search online for forums, apps and websites you can turn to for help when you need it
- Understand the process of nicotine withdrawal. You’re likely to get headaches, feel tired, have trouble both concentrating and sleeping, feel hungry and be restless while your physical body withdraws from the addiction. Be prepared— it won’t last forever
When the urge to vape arises
- Chew gum or drink iced water
- Text, call or meet up with a supportive friend
- Listen to your favourite playlist or read a book
- Exercise; go for a walk or jog, or join a gym
- Practice yoga or meditation; something that relaxes you
- Keep busy with a hobby or creative pastime