Vaping 101

By Christa Melnyk Hines

Just as cigarette smoking drops to its lowest level in years, e-cigarette use, a.k.a. “vaping,” is exploding among middle and high school students. Teens may blow off the trend as harmless, but experts think otherwise.

“It’s important to understand that this is a drug delivery system. In some ways, calling it ‘vaping’ almost makes it sound benign and not dangerous,” says Dr. Stephen Thornton, a medical toxicologist and emergency room physician.

What are e-cigarettes? Initially marketed as smoking cessation devices, e-cigarettes are electronic nicotine delivery systems that use lithium-ion battery operated devices to heat up and vaporize a flavored, liquid solution called e-juice. The user then inhales the vaporized solution.

What’s in the e-juice? The e-juice usually contains nicotine extract, which is mixed with propylene glycol (typically used in inhalers) and flavorings, like mint, fruit loops, gummy bears and passion fruit.

Since solutions aren’t currently regulated by the FDA, buyers have no way of knowing how much nicotine is in a product, including those that claim to contain zero nicotine.

“Right now many manufacturers are putting whatever they want in it, including potentially harmful chemicals,” says Jamie Katz, a youth drug and alcohol prevention coordinator.

What are the risks? Chemicals found in e-cigarette vapor include aldehydes (formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein and acetone); diacetyl, a highly toxic chemical linked to lung disease; volatile organic compounds found in car exhaust; and heavy metals like nickel, lead and chromium.

“Unfortunately, we still need more time to know exactly what kind of short or long-term problems you’re going to get from exposure to these chemicals,” Thornton says. “Some products are probably safe if you eat or drink them, but once you start inhaling them into the lungs and you start vaporizing them, it changes the dynamics.”

In the short-term, users may be more prone to viral infections in the lungs and asthmatic types of reactions. Hospitals are also treating more people with traumatic injuries related to the devices exploding in their faces or in their pockets.

“I don’t think people appreciate how much power is in the devices in order to get the heat that vaporizes the solution,” Thornton says. “If you think about it, you’re holding up a grenade to your face and if it goes off, that’s going to be a very bad story.”

What’s the appeal? According to Katz, kids think vaping is cool, healthier than smoking cigarettes, and a stress reliever.

Leaving no odors other than a light, fruity scent, e-cigarettes are easy to conceal in a pocket or purse. They often resemble pens or USB flash drives, like JUUL, which is especially popular among kids.

Then, there’s the celebrity effect. “An adolescent sees celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Katherine Heigl using these products openly in public, and there’s that diminished sense that it’s not a harmful product,” says Kevin Kufeldt, an adolescent treatment center program manager.

Vape “cloud chasing” competitions featured online, in which people blow clouds and do tricks with e-cigarettes add to the attraction.

Creating a new generation of addicts? With candy flavored solutions and labels like Unicorn Milk, Cotton Candy and Zombie Juice, many experts believe that e-cig marketers are specifically targeting kids.

“I doubt there’s a 45-year-old guy out there who says ‘Man, I really need to have my spearmint bubble gum vape today,'” Thornton says.

A JUUL pod contains 59 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of liquid, which the manufacturer says is equivalent to the amount of nicotine in a pack of cigarettes.

“On a milligram per milligram basis, nicotine is ten times more potent than heroin,” Kufeldt says.”Kids will tell me they think they actually smoke more with e-cigarettes than with a traditional cigarette because they can use more often throughout the day.”

Research suggests that teens who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes later. Many users also vape substances like synthetic cannabinoids, fentanyl, Xanax and marijuana.

Talk to your kids. Promote a healthy lifestyle, discuss the harmful effects of addictive substances on the body, and talk about healthier ways to manage stress.

“Parents can influence their kids’ decision to vape,” Katz says. “Talk to your children about your expectations and why you don’t want them to use e-cigarettes. You can expect them to live tobacco free.”

Take this quiz to see how much you know:
Globally, which two drugs claim the most lives?
A. Heroin
B. Opium
C. Alcohol
D. Nicotine
Answers: C and D

What is the average age kids first try addictive substances?
A. 16
B. 13
C. 8
D. 12
Answer: D

The legal age to purchase e-cigs ranges between 18 and 21, depending on your state or municipality. How are kids obtaining the products?
A. Friends
B. Online
C. Parents
D. All of the above
Answer: D
Sources: Dr. Stephen Thornton; Kevin Kufeldt

Poison Alert!

Many youngsters find and ingest the e-juices, mistaking them for candy or actual juice. Liquid nicotine is extremely poisonous. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, tremors and rapid heart beat. In severe cases, seizures and death can occur.
Sources: Dr. Stephen Thornton; American Association of Poison Control Centers

Christa Melnyk Hines is a nationally published freelance journalist and author. She and her husband are the parents of two middle school-aged sons. Her latest book is, Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.

More Articles

Helping Your Children Cope With Allergies

By Candace Lai The season for sniffles and achoos has arrived. More than 40 percent of U.S. children suffer from allergies. The most common are reactions to seasonal indoor/outdoor allergens, including those caused by pollen from trees (spring), grasses (summer), weeds (fall), mold spores and other sources. Seasonal allergies in children can often start as…

Hot Date Destinations

By Michelle Kopkash Dust off your best shoes, slip into your favorite outfit and head out for a romantic date with your significant other, celebrating the partnership that makes your family complete. From top-notch restaurants and lively bars to a growing cultural scene, Sacramento and Placer Counties have it all. The following establishments will satisfy…

My Meaningful Work as a Stay at Home Mom

By Sumiti Mehta When I made the decision to be a stay at home mom, it was because I wanted to be the one to greet my kids after school and be available for things like homework and school projects. Yes, it was a financial sacrifice, but it has been worth it. I know my…

Mother’s Day for Every Kind of Mom

By Meagan Ruffing Who doesn’t love a good ole’ fashioned handmade card and an armful of roses? I sure do. Think about it. Mother’s Day is the one day out of the entire year where moms actually get their own holiday. It’s a day that represents love, thankfulness and an overall appreciation for every time…

Mother’s Day Photo Box

crafty By Lady DIY Over the years, I’ve received all sorts of homemade gifts for Mother’s Day. Without a doubt, my favorite gifts are the ones that really capture my kids’ personalities at that time. This month’s crafty project is a great way to showcase your family and your favorite photos. Supplies Needed: 1 piece…

Top Tips On Giving Baby a Bath

By Dr. Amy Kim Whether you’ve only been home from the hospital with your tiny bundle of joy for a few days or a few weeks—eventually, you’ll have to give her a bath (scared or not). Don’t fret. Giving a baby a bath is not as hard as it seems. Just follow our top tips…

Sunshine, Angel and Rainbow Babies

By Amber Pryor | Photos: In The Moment Photography by Leila Pregnancy after the loss of a child is a tapestry of emotions. A rainbow baby, a child who is born after the loss of a sibling, represents the light, hope, and joy returning into the lives’ of their family. These children are called “rainbow…

Horse Wonder: Exploring the World ​of Horses

By Diane Turner Maller ​There was a time when it was common place for parents to have at least one tale from a childhood memory that involved an encounter or “wild ride” with a horse to share with their children. Fewer and fewer parents now have direct horse knowledge from our own upbringing. In finding…

Parenting by the Numbers: Word Problems to Show You’re Not Alone

By Kerrie McLoughlin Sometimes when you’re parenting you just don’t have all the answers. Nothing makes sense and things don’t always add up. Here I present to you some parenting math word problems, and I’m curious to see your answers. No cheating off the parent next to you! 1.      If 2 kids raise…

Subscribe to the Parent Newsletter

Our latest articles, resources and tips—direct to your inbox.

Follow Sacramento Parent