Is Your Child Vaping? What You Should Know

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Courtesy of the American Heart Association

Juuling, vaping, vape pens, flavored tobacco, and e-cigarettes —Michigan youth are in the midst of a vaping epidemic.
 
What should a parent know about vaping and e-cigarettes? What are the health implications? Would you recognize the signs if your child was vaping?
 
“As I travel to local schools to talk about the dangers of nicotine addiction, I see that these schools are beside themselves,” said Shelley Schmidt, MD, a critical care and pulmonology physician at Spectrum Health. “Kids are addicted to these devices and are using them throughout the day in classrooms, bathrooms, practices and sporting events.  Unfortunately, parents often believe their children are not involved or that there is no significant danger.”

Let’s take a look at some local statistics. A survey called the 2017-2018 Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth Survey was voluntarily administered throughout Michigan in grades 7, 9 and 11. The results showed that about 30% of Michigan Eleventh graders self-reported that they had used e-cigarettes in the past month before the survey.  Things weren’t much better for ninth grade students who self-reported a 20% usage or our seventh grade students who reported a 7% percent usage.

How do e-cigarettes work?

Vaping Devices, often known as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid solution that typically includes nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals.
 
While using an e-cigarette is often called “vaping,” the devices usually produce an aerosol, not a vapor. The aerosol often includes particles of metals and toxic chemicals that have been linked to heart disease, respiratory disease and cancer.  As the generation of products progresses, they are becoming sleeker and more colorful, and resembling a USB drive — something very familiar to kids. They have vibrant colors and enticing flavors to youth such as mint, fruit and candy flavors.
 
Many of these products are inexpensive. Vaping usually doesn’t leave the same lingering odor on clothing as tobacco and there is also a mistaken belief among kids that e-cigarettes are healthier than traditional forms of tobacco. 

What are the health concerns?

Short-term health effects after e-cigarette use are mouth and throat irritation, nausea, headache and dry cough. Recently there is an uptick in serious lung injuries. Unfortunately, long-term health effects are unknown. Research shows exposure to cinnamon and menthol e-liquids are the most damaging to cells.
 
As of the publication of this article, three Michiganders have died as a result of vaping-related use. Our medical communities are searching for answers. The American Heart Association has also heard from dentists in Michigan who are seeing damage and sensitivity to teeth as a result of vaping.
 
“The Surgeon General report on e-cigarette use in 2016 says that the developing brains of middle- and high-school students are highly sensitive to nicotine,” Dr. Schmidt said. “Because the brain is still developing, nicotine addiction can become a life-long struggle. That’s because the brain ‘learns; an addiction in the same way that it learns a foreign language or the ability to play a musical instrument. Nicotine also changes the emotional centers of the brain, leading to increased anxiety and loneliness. As a result, young people are moving on to the next drug: marijuana.”

Intentional marketing to our youth?

“JUUL launched with a social marketing campaign that positioned them as the cool “vape of choice” for kids,“ Jeanne LaSargeBono, executive director for the American Heart Association in West Michigan, commented.  “JUUL has been incredibly successful. A recent report claimed that nearly half of Juul’s followers on Twitter last year were teens. In addition, many young celebrities are using Juul and those photos are being shared around social media, fueling the craze.”

What can parents do?

Some parents admit that they did not realize the products contained nicotine and that they thought vaping involved just “harmless flavored water.”  The American Heart Association recommends that you talk with your kids and teens about the dangers of vaping and they have resources for you.
 
Learn more about what impact you might have with your child’s school, your company or community by visiting Heart.org/tobaccoEndGame or reach out to your local American Heart Association staff.  On an advocacy front, sign up for the You’re the Cure Action Center to learn what steps are being taken locally and nationally. YouretheCure.org/join

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