In November, as part of the 2019-20 Thinking Differently about Learning Differently Speaker Series, Dearborn Academy hosted the discussion Tween and Teen Vaping: A Dangerous Addiction with Tracy Rose-Tynes, MS, BSN, RN, manager of School Health Services in Cambridge, Mass.
More than one in four high school students and one in 10 middle schoolers have reported recent use (past 30 days) of e-cigarettes. In 2018, 3.6 million youth used them. The 2019 figure exceeded 5 million with nearly one million reporting daily use. While cigarette smoking is at an all-time low among high school students, increases in e-cigarette use have reversed a 50-year decline in youth tobacco consumption. 
A Dangerous Addiction
How does vaping affect young bodies and minds? It can harm parts of the brain that control attention span and learning. Vaping also exposes developing respiratory systems to potentially harmful chemicals. While the long-term health consequences of vaping are not fully known, we have already seen that it causes serious lung damage, addictive behavior and even death.
In terms of nicotine addiction, as with other types of addicts, students have symptoms of withdrawal when they cannot get their vaping “fix.” They may even steal from their families, stores and each other to get the product or the money they need to purchase vaping products.
It’s Not Nicotine, Right?
Why are so many middle and high school students vaping? A large number, 66 percent, have no idea that their e-cigarettes contain nicotine. They are drawn to the flavors offered by manufacturers and believe that what they are doing is no more dangerous or addictive than the PB&J sandwich (a favorite e-cigarette flavor) they had for lunch.
There are over 15,000 flavors available for vaping in over 500 brands of e-cigarettes. Flavors like unicorn milk, skittles and fruit loops are named to appeal to young people. While no longer selling fruity flavors, the number one seller of vaping devices remains Juul, created in 2015 by two Stanford University classmates who wanted to create a way to smoke without the need to leave the classroom for cigarette breaks.
For tweens and teens being able to use the products surreptitiously in the classroom is seen as a great alternative to traditional smoking. Many of the vaping devices are made to look like something else, e.g., hoodies, backpacks, smartwatches, writing pens, phone cases, USB drives, etc.
Another part of the attraction to vaping products is the “high tech” aspect. The electronic devices can be charged on a computer.
How Do Students Access E-cigarettes?
Nationally, more than half of all tweens and teens get their e-cigarette products at local markets, gas stations and smoke shops – even though you must be an adult to purchase them. Other sources include friends, neighbors, classmates and the Internet. For online purchasing, students take a parent’s credit card or buy a VISA gift card and pretend to be an adult.
What Can We Do About E-cigarette Smoking by Students?
First, you need to educate yourself about vaping and e-cigarette use. Know the products, especially the ones disguised to look like something else. Know the full range of effects that vaping has on young bodies and minds, from severe respiratory illness to psychological dependence to the increased probability that a vaper will become a cigarette smoker if they stop vaping. Know the symptoms of nicotine addiction.
Be prepared to have an honest conversation with the young person about vaping. Find out if they are vaping. If, luckily, they are not, make sure you are still armed with the facts to ensure they do not start. If they are, share information on tools and resources available to help the young person quit vaping. There are many online resources for students used to getting their information from the Internet.
Most of all be positive and supportive of the young person. You may be their best chance for quitting or never starting vaping.