Vaping has become an epidemic among youth in recent years. E-cigarettes entered the US market in 2007 and since 2014 vaping has surpassed smoking traditional cigarettes in popularity among youth. Today, vaping is pervasive in middle schools and high schools across the country. According to the CDC and FDA, in 2021 over 2 million middle and high school students reported current use of e-cigarettes. This is alarming as nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development. While the long-term effects of vaping are still unknown, it’s clear youth vaping addiction is a major public health concern.
What is Vaping?
Vaping refers to the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and other electronic nicotine delivery systems. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales. The liquid usually contains nicotine, flavors, and other additives. Popular e-cigarette brands used by youth include JUUL, Vuse, SMOK, Suorin, and more. These sleek, high-tech devices appeal greatly to kids and teens. JUULs, for example, look similar to USB flash drives and can be charged in the USB port of a computer.
Why is Vaping So Popular Among Kids and Teens?
There are several key reasons why vaping has exploded in popularity among youth:
E-cigarettes come in thousands of flavors like mango, mint, and crème brûlée. While flavors attract users of all ages, they are particularly enticing to youth. Flavors make vaping more appealing and mask the harsh taste of nicotine. Menthol and mint flavors are especially popular among kids and teens.
Misperception of Harm
Many youth falsely believe that vaping is harmless or less harmful than smoking cigarettes. However, the aerosols in e-cigarettes contain toxic chemicals that can damage lungs. The nicotine in e-cigarettes also highly addictive and can harm brain development in adolescents.
Discrete Product Design
Devices like JUUL are small, discreet, and easy to conceal from parents and teachers. Some resemble innocuous items like USB drives. Teens can take a puff in the school bathroom without anyone noticing. E-cigarettes don’t produce a strong smell or visible smoke like traditional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are relatively inexpensive and widely available in convenience stores, gas stations, online, and from other social sources like friends. Lack of age verification online has made purchasing e-cigarettes easy for underage youth.
E-cigarette companies use social media, influencers, flavors, and other strategies to market their products to youth. For example, JUUL heavily promoted their products on Instagram and recruited influencers to feature JUULs on their accounts.
Rebellion and Desire to Fit In
For adolescents who are naturally rebellious, vaping can seem cool, daring, and a way to fit in with peers. E-cigarette advertising portrays vaping as glamorous, edgy, and sexy. This further promotes vaping as an act of defiance.
How Widespread is Youth Vaping?
According to national survey data from the CDC and FDA, vaping has reached epidemic levels among US middle and high school students. Key statistics on youth vaping rates include:
Overall Vaping Prevalence
- In 2021, over 2.06 million US middle and high school students reported current use of e-cigarettes, meaning they vaped within the past 30 days. This equates to 14.1% of middle and high school students.
- E-cigarette use increased dramatically between 2011 to 2019 but declined slightly in 2020 likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In 2019, over 5 million middle and high school students reported ever trying an e-cigarette.
Middle School Vaping Rates
- In 2021, approximately 550,000 US middle school students reported current e-cigarette use.
- This equates to 5.5% of middle school students vaping in 2021.
High School Vaping Rates
- In 2021, around 1.51 million US high school students reported current vaping.
- This represents 16.6% of all high school students using e-cigarettes.
- In 2021, 27.6% of current high school e-cigarette users vaped on 20 or more of the past 30 days. 11% vaped daily.
- Frequent use indicates nicotine addiction or dependence.
Flavored E-Cigarette Use
- 83.9% of youth e-cigarette users reported using flavored e-cigarettes in 2021.
- The most popular flavors were fruit, candy, mint, or menthol. Flavors clearly play a major role in youth vaping.
Table: Youth Vaping Rates 2011-2021
|Year||Prevalence of Current E-Cigarette Use|
Health Risks of Youth Vaping
While vaping may seem harmless, it poses serious health risks, especially for adolescents.
The nicotine in e-cigarettes is highly addictive. Youth are especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction as their brains are still developing. Kids can quickly become dependent on nicotine without realizing it. Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, concentration problems, anxiety, depression, restlessnes, and cravings. Adolescent nicotine addiction can impact brain function and arousal control for many years.
Exposure to Toxic Chemicals
E-cigarette aerosols contain harmful chemicals like ultrafine particles, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds. These can damage lung tissue and reduce lung function. The long-term effects of vaping on the adolescent body are still unknown.
Increased Risk of Smoking Cigarettes
Teens who vape are 3 to 4 times more likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes compared to non-vaping teens. The nicotine addiction and exposure to smoking behaviors promote eventual transition to regular cigarettes.
Harm to Brain Development
The adolescent brain continues developing until around age 25. Nicotine exposure during this critical period can disrupt healthy brain maturation and have lasting cognitive impacts. Animal studies show nicotine harms adolescent brain cell development, memory, learning, impulse control, attention, and mood regulation.
E-cigarette use increases coughing, wheezing, asthma exacerbations, and bronchitis symptoms in teens. It may also raise the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Oral Health Problems
Vaping dries out the mouth and can cause gum inflammation and disease, mouth sores, and other oral issues.
Some vaping chemicals like diacetyl have been linked to a serious lung condition called bronchiolitis obliterans or popcorn lung. This damages small airways in the lungs causing cough and shortness of breath.
Signs of Vaping Addiction in Teens
Many parents are unaware their teen is vaping. Signs your teen may be addicted to vaping include:
- Spending money on e-cigarettes or vaping supplies
- Possessing e-cigarette devices and hiding them
- Smelling like chemicals or fruity/minty flavors
- Increased thirst or dehydration
- Reduced appetite
- Mood swings, nervousness, irritability
- Frequent breaks or trips to bathroom (to vape)
- Decline in academic or sports performance
- Using breath mints, mouthwash, or perfume to cover up vape smells
- Secrecy about online purchases and social media communication
Trends in Teen Vaping
Some notable trends regarding youth vaping include:
- More kids are trying vaping at a younger age – middle school vaping is rising
- Disposable e-cigarettes are popular – easy to hide, no charge required, accessible flavors
- Pod mods continue gaining marketshare – sleek, high-nicotine devices like JUUL
- Flavors remain a top draw – fruity, sweet, and dessert flavors preferred
- Youth access online with no ID checks – buying via social media or overseas websites
- High nicotine content common – nicotine salts allow high levels without harshness
These trends reflect the challenges of reducing adolescent vaping addiction. As companies launch new devices in fun flavors, kids’ interest in vaping continues. Restricting youth access is extremely difficult today given online sales and discreet product designs.
Factors Driving Youth Vaping
It’s important to understand the key factors driving the youth vaping epidemic today:
- Addictive nature of nicotine
- Marketing strategies by e-cigarette companies
- Widespread product availability
- Alluring flavors like fruit and candy
- Rebellion and desire for social status
- Misconception that vaping is harmless
- Slick, discrete product designs
- Influences of social media and peers
These forces have fueled vaping’s rise among middle and high school students. Any solutions must address these root causes to start reversing adolescent vaping trends.
Solutions to Reduce Youth Vaping
Ending the youth vaping epidemic requires a multi-faceted approach including:
Regulations on E-cigarette Sales and Marketing
The FDA and state/local governments should continue strengthening regulations around:
- Age verification for all e-cigarette sales online and in-stores
- Flavors that appeal to kids like fruit and candy
- Marketing via social media and influencers
- Limits on nicotine content allowed in e-cigarettes
Middle and high schools need educational programs to:
- Teach teens about vaping risks and marketing tactics
- Offer cessation resources for addicted students
- Provide disciplinary consequences for vaping
- Engage parents on vaping hazards
FDA Approval Process for All E-cigarettes
Any e-cigarette product allowed on the market should undergo an FDA approval process to evaluate public health impact. This would prohibit sales of dangerous products targeting kids.
Tax Increase on E-cigarettes
Significantly raising taxes on vaping devices and e-liquids would deter youth use by increasing prices. These taxes could help fund vaping prevention programs.
Parent Education Initiatives
Parents play a critical role but often struggle to recognize signs of teen vaping addiction. Parent peer groups and school programs can empower parents with knowledge and monitoring tactics.
The Path Forward
Reversing the youth vaping crisis will require time, Money, and coordinated efforts between regulators, schools, the vaping industry, parents, and teens themselves. While progress has been made in some areas, the work is far from finished. Only through comprehensive strategies and education can we curb addiction to nicotine vaping in adolescents. Parents, teachers, and public health professionals must advocate for strong policies and programs protecting kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Youth and Tobacco Use. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/index.htm
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). Youth Tobacco Use: Results from the National Youth Tobacco Survey. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/youth-and-tobacco/youth-tobacco-use-results-national-youth-tobacco-survey
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