Dangers of vaping for teens

Rates of teen smoking are at a 25-year low according to recent research from the University of Michigan.

This record reduction in smoking is proof that prevention works. When teenagers are provided with fact-based information about risks, most will do what is best for their health.

Unfortunately, teenagers today are being fed misinformation about electronic nicotine delivery systems, also known as e-cigarettes or "vaping."

If you ask a group of teens what they've heard about vaping, most believe that, "it's just water vapor and flavors" or that there is "no nicotine." When the perception of risk goes down, use goes up.

So, what is actually in these devices, and are they harmful to health?

First, it's not a water vapor that users are inhaling - it's a chemical-filled aerosol.

This is an important distinction because the particles in an aerosol are so fine that they can bypass the lung's filtering system. That means the toxic chemicals being heated and inhaled while vaping can go deeper into user's lungs than the smoke from traditional cigarettes.

The following chemicals have been found in "e-liquids":

• Propylene glycol: found in antifreeze products

• Acetone: commonly used in nail polish remover and paint thinner

• Formaldehyde: used as an embalming fluid to preserve human and animal remains

• Vegetable Glycerin: vegetable oil, approved by FDA for oral consumption, NOT approved to be inhaled

• Diacetyl: chemical flavoring, linked to popcorn lung

This is just a small sampling of the potentially harmful chemicals present in electronic nicotine delivery systems; many have been linked to increased cancer rates among traditional cigarette and cigar user.

The long-term health consequences of inhaling these ingredients through newer vaporizers are still unknown - and this is the greatest risk to teens using these devices now.

The harmful effects of one substance found in vaping devices is not up for debate: nicotine.

Nicotine is addictive, and developing teenage brains are especially vulnerable. We know that teenagers are at a higher risk for addiction and that 90 percent of adult tobacco users became addicted to nicotine during adolescence.

In fact, even limited monthly tobacco use can lead to addiction in adolescents, and, once addicted, it is harder for a teen to quit using nicotine than an adult.

Though teenagers understandably want independence, adults can still provide critical guidance in navigating the health risks of vaping and e-cigarettes.

It is important to engage in nonjudgmental conversations with teens and to provide them with accurate information regarding electronic nicotine delivery systems, including the chemical ingredients, deceptive marketing tactics, and what some might consider the biggest risk of all: not knowing what these aerosols can do to our health in the long run.

Teenagers are in desperate need of accurate information regarding these devices. If we don't take the initiative to begin thoughtful conversations with youth, we risk seeing a generation of adolescents repeat the harmful mistakes made in the past, before accurate information about the deadly effects of smoking tobacco were widely known.

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Lurie Children's Hospital. For additional information, visit Authors Katie Greeley, LSW, CADC, specializes in adolescent substance use treatment and prevention, and Dr. Maria Rahamandar, a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine, are developing a Substance Use Treatment and Prevention Program for the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Ann &. Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital targeted to open in the fall of 2018.

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