Resurgence of teen vaping a concern with return to in-person school

Rates of child e-cigarette use dipped slightly when the pandemic hit, but remain alarmingly high
Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 4:30 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - With students going back to in-person learning, there is concern that many will encounter newfound peer pressure to use e-cigarettes.

UW Madison Associate Professor of Pediatric Pulmonology, Dr. Vivek Balasubramaniam (MD), said the teen vaping crisis took a backseat during the pandemic, but it never went away.

“Although there was a decline in the number of children who self-reported that they did use vaping and e-cigarette related products from 27% to 20%, that still includes 1 in 5 high school students that are currently vaping,” said Dr. Balasubramaniam.

Flavored e-cigarettes are largely to blame for encouraging children and teens to use these high concentrate nicotine products.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the National Association of Secondary School Principals are calling on the FDA and lawmakers to ban all flavored nicotine vapes.

This is ahead of a September 9th deadline for the FDA to approve or deny future production of all flavored e-cigarette products.

Dr. Balasubramaniam encourages parents, “to talk to their local representatives, to send messages directly to the FDA to tell them that they need to regulate and ban these flavored e-cigarettes which are really utilized by the kids, because they’re fruity flavored and they’re nice to taste, but it also hooks them on nicotine. "

An alarming number of children and teens continue to be hospitalized with severe lung injury from vaping, which presents as shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

“Impairing that achievement of their maximum lung function really results in long-term problems in terms of exercise intolerance, in terms of just breathing when there’s smoke out and when there’s other pollutants out in the air,” explained Dr. Balasubramaniam.

Many are also suffering from nicotine overuse, which can cause vomiting and nausea. Nicotine dependency can also be detrimental to development, since it impacts a child’s brain differently than an adult.

“This is the period of time where the child’s brain is developing. It’s learning things like reasoning, it’s learning impulse control, it’s learning how to be an adult. Nicotine changes the wiring in the brain and that results in abnormalities and problems with those types of behaviors. They are more prone to impulsive behaviors that could result in self-harm and harm to others,” said Dr. Balasubramaniam.

Unexplainable mood swings or abnormal irritability could also be signs of nicotine addiction.

Quitting vaping starts with getting psychological help to deal with cravings and withdrawals.

“The other thing also is that you do need medical help. You need to have a way of weening off or coming slowly down off of that nicotine and we have plenty of medical therapies that we can do in terms of nicotine replacement therapies and other therapies that can help you,” told Dr. Balasubramaniam.

He said in his experience, a lot of teenagers vape because they’re bored, stressed, or because their peers are doing it. Dr. Balasubramaniam said a child may want to quit but is too scared to ask for help.

“This is to the parents out there: if you really want your teen to quit you need to have an open, non-judgmental dialogue with that teen,” said Dr. Balasubramaniam.

Youth that use vaping products are also at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill, ending up on a ventilator, or have respiratory failure if they contract COVID-19.

“With COVID going on right now and any surges that come, it’s really concerning that if you are vaping that you are at a higher risk of having severe lung injury and severe lung damage and symptoms from COVID itself,” explained Dr. Balasubramaniam.

Health experts say key reminder for teens is the sooner they quit, the better.

“In stopping vaping, you do have recovery of your lungs. Every day that you’re not exposing your lungs to those irritants and those chemicals makes your lungs able to recover. It’s the recurrent, on-going injury that is hard to recover from,” told Dr. Balasubramaniam.

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