Vaping; The “Cool” and Dangerous New Alternative to Cigarettes

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Vaping, or e-cigarette use, is becoming more and more popular among teenagers. The results published in Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug use, 1975-2018 show that increases in vaping among adolescents were “some of the largest absolute increases MTF has ever tracked for any substance.” But how is vaping better or worse for health than smoking cigarettes?

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Vaping Statistics

Because nicotine is present in most vaping devices, the rise in vaping among adolescents has created a serious public health issue. Studies indicate an increase in vaping among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders from 2017 to 2018. According to the data, 18% of 8th graders vaped in 2018. 32% of 10th graders did the same, as did 37% of 12th graders. There were also increases in specific vaping products such as “just flavoring,” nicotine, and marijuana among the same polled demographics.

Risk of E-Cigarette Use and Smoking

Among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, the risk of regularly vaping nicotine has increased to 22%, 23%, and 18%, respectively. Disapproval of vaping nicotine was 69% for 8th graders, 68% for 10th graders, and 71% for 12th graders.

Studies reveal a correlation between vaping and cigarette use. In 2017, 30.7% of teens who started smoking cigarettes, cigars, or tobacco within six months were e-cigarette users, compared to 8.1% of non-vaping teens who started smoking.

Vaping Basics

There are two main components to vaping: vapes and vape liquid. Vapes are known as e-cigarettes, but they’re also called vape pens, pod mods, e-hookahs, tanks, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Additionally, vape liquid can go by the name of e-juice, oil, cartridge, pod, and e-liquid. Vapes contain batteries which are used to heat and aerosolize the liquid. The “juice” itself may contain ingredients like glycerol (glycerin), nicotine, marijuana, and flavoring chemicals.

Vaping’s Impact on Health and Popularity

On December 18, 2018, Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued a statement declaring e-cigarette, or vaping, an epidemic among American youth. The impact on e-cigarettes on health is being researched by many organizations, but some negative impacts have already been identified.

What the Research Shows

Research concludes vaping is a dangerous practice. According to Yale health researchers, vaping hasn’t been proven to help smokers quit, it increases the risk of teens smoking cigarettes, and vaping nicotine poses the same health risks as cigarette smoking. A separate study led by Dr. Mark Rubenstein of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital found that many e-cigarettes contain carcinogenic, volatile organic compounds, even if they didn’t contain nicotine or flavoring. Dr. Rubenstein’s study also determined that high school students have used vaping devices to conceal the smell of marijuana.

E-cigarette companies have used various marketing tactics and tools to advertise their product and counter the research. Promoting flavors is a big strategy, as 43% of middle- and high school students tried vaping because of appealing flavors. Some companies have offered school scholarships in exchange for written essays on the potential benefits of vaping. The e-cigarette brand JUUL spent over $1 million in 2015 on campaigns designed to project a cool, sexy, and laid-back brand image. JUUL has also sponsored film festivals across Utah and Washington, as has fellow e-cigarette brand blu.

The Cool Kid: JUUL

JUUL’s marketing practices have made them especially popular among young adult and youth users, to the point where the brand even inspired a new verb – juuling. This caught the attention of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who seized thousands of pages of documents detailing JUUL’s sales and marketing practice in September 2018.

The FDA found that JUUL sold 16.2 million vapes in 2017, and that their sales between 2016 and 2017 grew by more than 641%. During the summer of 2018, JUUL had 68% of the American e-cigarette market. The seizure produced a noticeable impact: On November 13, 2018, JUUL posted messages across its Facebook and Instagram profiles stating it will not be posting any future content and will not respond to direct messages.

Helping Teens Quit – and Never Start

It may be difficult to catch a teen vaping, but parents and educators can look out for signs. However, prevention and honest dialogue are more effective than a reactive response.

Signs Your Teen Is Vaping

There are several key signs to keep watch for if you suspect your teen may be using e-cigarettes. Some of these signs are behavioral, such as drinking more water than usual or adding extra salt and flavor to food. Other signs may be physical, such as acne around the mouth, nosebleeds, or even pneumonia.

Steps to Awareness and Making Wise Decisions

The first step in talking to your teen about e-cigarette usage is to avoid scare tactics and discuss accurate vaping data. You should also be aware of the major vaping brands and what they look like. You can also encourage your teen to speak to a pediatrician or adolescent medicine specialist for expert advice. Finally, if your teen is vaping, be supportive and help them find resources to quit.


Today, researchers and public health officials are looking into the health effects of vaping and taking this threat seriously. Parents and educators need to stop assuming that vaping is a harmless alternative to smoking and take steps to protect teens and students from developing a vaping-induced nicotine habit.