Almost half of American teens don’t know they are vaping nicotine — and that’s dangerous

Vaping is becoming increasingly popular with teenagers. Image by Electric Tobacconist via Flickr

E-cigarette use among teenagers is rising steadily but recent research shows that many teens don’t know they are also inhaling addictive nicotine with every puff.

Most of those surveyed said they only vaped products that were nicotine-free. But urine tests that detect nicotine use found that it showed up 40 percent of the time in the same group of vapers, UPI reports.

“Many of our participants were unaware of the nicotine content of the e-cigarette products they were using,” the team of researchers, led by Dr. Rachel Boykan, concluded.

Boykan, a pediatrics researcher at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, and her team found at least one in five high school students say they have used an e-cigarette at least once during the past month. And in a 12-month period between 2017 and 2018, teen vaping rates zoomed to 78 percent.

This, of course, may also mean more teenagers are dealing with life-long nicotine addictions since many believe vaping is “harmless” as opposed to traditional smoking, some experts say.

Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York, is all too familiar with this.

“Other studies have revealed that one of the main reasons adolescents use e-cigarettes is that they perceive them to be less harmful than combustible cigarettes — without full knowledge of their actual contents.”

And the study, published in the journal Pediatrics on April 22, is evidence that many teens aren’t aware of the nicotine content in their e-cigarettes, Folan said.

Perhaps the most important question here is whether teens understand just how addictive these nicotine-laced vaping products are. So the Stony Brook researchers decided to study 517 people between the ages of 12 and 21. They were asked to fill out questionnaires about their use of e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes, and marijuana. The scientists were comparing the survey results against urine tests that specifically sought out cotinine, which is a “marker” associated with the presence of nicotine in a person’s blood.

For the most part, the kids were honest about their use of tobacco, marijuana, and e-cigarettes. Only two percent who said they didn’t use these substances were later found to have them in their urine samples.

There was bad news for young teenagers who vape, however.

In this subgroup, Boykan’s team found that about four out of every 10 people who said they only used non-nicotine products were found to have nicotine markers in their urine.

And this lack of awareness was most common among kids who use Juul vaping pods. These, the researchers say, “have the highest nicotine concentrations to date.” Juul vaping pods are among the most widely-used vaping products among teens in the e-cigarette crowd the researchers noted.

“The risk for addiction is clear,” said Dr. Len Horovitz, a lung health specialist who didn’t participate in the study.

Horovitz found it “disturbing” that so many young vapers aren’t aware they are ingesting nicotine.

“It’s well known that e-cigarettes end up delivering more nicotine because every ‘draw’ yields nicotine, whereas traditional cigarettes burn down between puffs and therefore deliver less nicotine,” said Horovitz, who is a pulmonary care specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

So it’s time for adults to alert kids to the dangers posed by e-cigarettes.

“This study demonstrates the need for more regulation regarding e-cigarettes, including labeling of ingredients and health warnings,” she said.

Offering better education about ingredients in vaping products “may help teens make more educated decisions,” she added.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there’s a good reason to be concerned about teens and nicotine addiction. Nicotine can easily harm a developing brain. Our brains, it turns out, keep developing until we are about 25-years-old, the CDC reports. Nicotine can actually harm parts of the brain associated with learning, control, mood, and impulse control.

But it also does other things to a young brain. Whenever we create a new memory or a new skill, stronger connections (known as synapses) are formed between brain cells. As with other parts of the brain, nicotine can also do damage here. And teenagers who regularly use nicotine have a higher chance of drug addiction later in life.

E-cigarettes are often considered safe, but as long as they contain nicotine they quite obviously have some major drawbacks. And as the video below shows, educators are rightly concerned about the health risks of vaping.

Featured image by Electric Tobacconist license CC 2.0 via Flickr