Teen vaping is on the rise – and school districts and regulators are beginning to take notice. The Center of Disease Control has reported more than 1000 lung injury cases and 18 deaths to date, with all patients describing a repeated history of using e-cigarette or vaping products. Although vaping is generally considered to be less harmful than traditional smoking, it is nonetheless addictive, bad for one’s health, and may serve as a precursor to smoking cigarettes and other forms of tobacco use.
What is Vaping?
E-cigarettes, also referred to as vapes, are battery-powered smoking devices. Originally developed and commercialized at scale in Asia, e-cigarettes were introduced to the U.S. market around 2007. E-cigarette devices contain cartridges filled with liquids that typically contain nicotine and flavorings, which are then heated through the battery and heating element in the device. The result of heating the liquid located in the cartridge is a vapor, which is then inhaled by the user.
According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 27.5% of U.S. teens reported having used an e-cigarette or vape within the past 30 days, a more than two-fold increase from 11.7% in 2017. The most popular flavors among teen users of e-cigarettes include sweet flavors such as fruit, menthol, mint, or candy, which may mask the immediate effect of nicotine which is found in nearly all e-cigarette liquids. Interestingly, the survey also revealed a steadily declining usage rate of traditional cigarettes. While promising, this statistic and the efforts to curb teen smoking may have been thwarted by the spike in teen vaping.
On September 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a press release that indicated that the FDA would soon be finalizing a compliance policy regarding premarket authorization requirements for non-tobacco flavored e-cigarette products. This announcement comes on the heels of a reported death in Illinois due to a possible vaping-related illness only one month prior. And Juul, the de facto market leader in e-cigarette products with a U.S. market share estimated as high as 75%, was sued by school districts in Missouri, Kansas, and New York in October. School districts in the suit claimed that Juul intentionally marketed their products to teenagers and as a result, schools were forced to shoulder the responsibility of disciplinary, educational, restorative, and support services that would have otherwise been unnecessary (Interesting Fact: one Juul pod contains the same nicotine content as 20 cigarettes).
Why has vaping become so popular among teens in the United States and around the world? Early theories suggest that a lack of governmental regulation, lack of consumer awareness and education, and viral marketing campaigns by Juul and other companies fueled the staggering rise in teen vaping. However, with increasing numbers of reported illnesses and school prevention efforts, it seems that greater efforts to research the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, educate teens, and adequately regulate the industry are underway in earnest.