The Effects of Vaping on Teenagers

By Ana Perez, 10th Grade

A vape, also known as an electronic cigarette, is a device that heats up a liquid to create a vapor you inhale. Some types of vaping devices include pens, e-cigarettes (like JUUL), and hookahs. While vaping appears to be a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, there are still many health risks involved. Vaping has become one of the most popular ways to consume tobacco, nicotine, and marijuana over the years. Its popularity skyrocketed, especially among teens and young adults. Polls show that 20% of people aged 10 to 29 vape; another poll shows how those 15 to 17 are 16 times more likely to vape than someone aged 25 to 34. The Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey finds that around 1 in 10 middle school and high school students are vaping in the United States, with 14.1% of high schoolers reporting current e-cigarette use. 27.6% of these users smoke a daily e-cigarette.

When asked why, the most common answers were ‘because it tastes good,’ ‘to experiment,’ ‘to have a good time with friends,’ ‘to feel good or get high,’ ‘to relax and relieve tension,’ ‘boredom,’ ‘because it looks cool,’ ‘because they’re hooked,’ ‘to help quit regular cigarettes,’ and ‘because regular cigarettes are not allowed.’

However, vaping can have several health risks. The liquid in vapes can contain chemicals that cause cancer, heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead, diacetyl (linked to lung disease), volatile organic compounds, and ultra-fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Vapes contain ⅓ to ½ of the nicotine found in your average cigarette, although those who vape can face serious health risks. Scientists are still actively learning about the effects of vaping, especially surrounding vitamin E acetate, a chemical added to some vaping liquids to help dilute. There were more than 2,807 cases of users being hospitalized for vape-related reasons as of February 2020. And one of the main reasons for the health risks of vapes is nicotine.

Nicotine, which comes from the nicotiana species, is a type of tobacco plant usually grown in South America, before it spread to America, Africa, and Australia. It creates a temporary feeling of well-being and relaxation, increasing the heart rate and amount of oxygen that the heart uses. As it enters the body, nicotine produces a surge of endorphins, which are chemicals that relieve stress and improve mood. It also increases dopamine levels, which is associated with the brain’s reward system – this creates a feeling of pleasure. The body then absorbs the nicotine into the bloodstream, so it can reach the brain. Since nicotine levels peak quickly after entering the body, the ‘good feeling’ associated with nicotine is frequently short-lived. Just like cocaine, methamphetamine, and other well-known drugs, the frequent use of nicotine affects the brain, lowering self-control, stress, and learning. Long-term changes can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms when a person is not smoking. Nicotine can also cause certain side effects such as dizziness, headaches, changes in sleep patterns, increased risk of blood cutting, increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, tremors, joint pain, indigestion, heartburn, and peptic ulcer. Nicotine may interact with some other drugs or medications. It may cause benzodiazepines to be less effective. If a person is taking a contraceptive pill, nicotine may increase the risk of blood clots forming. Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to go on to use regular cigarettes. Anzilotti A. (n.d) adds that the use of vapes can lead to nicotine addiction, worsen anxiety and depression, cause lung damage, cause chronic bronchitis, affect memory, affect concentration, and cause sexual dysfunction in men.

For many experts, the effects that nicotine has on teenagers are especially worrying due to the impact it has on brain development. According to the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne (n.d), nicotine exposure during the teenage years can harm brain development, which continues until about age 25. It can impact learning, memory, and attention, and increase the risk of future addiction to other drugs. Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections – or synapses – are built between brain cells. Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. However, nicotine negatively influences how synapses are formed, especially in adolescents. 

While vaping is considered to be healthier than smoking, it is still not without its risks. According to the Child Mind Institute, it is not recommended for teenagers to vape due to the inherent health risks of nicotine and the effect addiction has on the teen body. Nicotine is already highly addictive, and teenagers are more susceptible to addiction than adults. Martinelli (2022) states that “Addiction to nicotine from vaping can be even more serious than addiction to regular cigarettes.” 

It is important to know the risks associated with vaping in order to make an informed decision on the matter, especially considering the impact vapes and nicotine have on the teenage body.



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