Many would agree smoking is out and vaping is in, especially among the nation’s teenagers.
Considerable progress has been made in reducing cigarette smoking among the nation’s youth. However, the tobacco product landscape has shifted to include electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). E-cigarettes are most commonly referred to as “vape pens,” “mods,” or “Juuls”—which is the most popular vape brand.
E-cigarettes entered the U.S. marketplace around 2007, and since 2014, they have been the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youth. According to the recent study, “Use of Electronic Cigarettes and Any Tobacco Product Among Middle and High School Students United States, 2011–2018,” more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, used e-cigarettes in 2018.
The U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams recently described the rise in teen vaping use as an “epidemic.”
Despite the dramatic increases in vape use in teens, not many parents, teachers or students know much about the effects of vape use.
ParentWiser, a parenting lecture series comprised of local and nationally-known experts who are invited to share the latest information in effective parenting with parents of the Issaquah School District, recently hosted an informational event for ISD parents on the effects of teen vaping.
Jerry Blackburn, M.ED., CDP, is the program manager for Substance Abuse and Prevention Services with Friends of Youth and is slated to be the executive director for Influence the Choice (ITC).
The event was co-sponsored by Friends of Youth and ITC.
In the presentation, Blackburn discussed the impact of nicotine on the brain, the nature of vaping and associated products, aggressive unregulated marketing to youth, the dangers and concerns of vaping consumption and how parents can reduce the risk of use for youth.
In data collected by the Issaquah School District, about 22 percent of ISD seniors (or a quarter of every class) uses or has used a vape product; 16 percent of ISD sophomores; 7 percent of ISD eighth-grade students and 1 percent of sixth-grade students.
Blackburn said nicotine use is especially harmful to adolescent brains as they have not yet fully developed.
“Nicotine is the most productive psychoactive chemical,” Blackburn said. “When used, the brain has to compensate and slow way down.”
He said nicotine use over time can affect memory, learning and attention. When addicted, he said, the user has greater difficulty not using as the brain has developed a tolerance and struggles to perform without it.
Students’ social environment is a key factor in vape use among teens. Lack of knowledge about the product and peer pressure provide a “perfect storm.”
Blackburn also emphasized that addiction is “not personal, it’s psychological.”
“Drug use is an unwanted event. Teens have underdeveloped prefrontal cortex which means they don’t have a ‘stop switch,’” he said. “They’re more susceptible to stimuli such as marketing and advertising.”
Marketing plays a role in shaping the environment around vaping, Blackburn said. The traditional marketing tactics such as women, cars and rebellion are what draw teens to use.
“It’s incredibly effective on our young people,” he said.
While vape products can be expensive, students can access them with relative ease. A common trend in U.S. high schools is students sharing vape products and refilling/reusing vape cartridges. An additional problem enters because not just nicotine is being replaced — other harmful chemicals, including levels of THC, are now being found in vape devices through manipulation.
“People just don’t know much about this, and there aren’t many resources to deal with it,” Blackburn said. “Nicotine is still bad. Vaping doesn’t make anything safer.”
Following the presentation, Blackburn advised parents to speak with their students about the dangers of vaping and set clear rules around substance use.
Alison Cathrow attended the presentation as both an ISD parent and Issaquah High School nurse.
“The presentation was really effective in giving us the clinical information about vaping,” she said.
As a nurse, she said the information will help her guide conversations with students about vape use and how to get them help and resources they need.
As a parent, she said the presentation was helpful with being knowledgeable of what her child’s peers and friends may be exposed to. Also, the new information will equip her to be a resource for parents in the community.
“I’m glad I attended so I can better serve the students as well as their families,” she said.
More information on the effects of teen vaping can be found at the National Institute of Drug Abuse (www.drugabuse.com). For more information about Influence the Choice, go online to www.influencethechoice.org.