Since smoking e-cigarettes (aka vaping) is growing in popularity, we saw a need to gather data from numerous, respected, research articles—many from the CDC. We are sharing that data here so that teens can make an informed decision about vaping. Too often teens will pick up a habit without considering risks.

We know many people have used vaping successfully to quit cigarette smoking and that is great. Our focus is on teens that start vaping without ever having smoked tobacco cigarettes. We do not advocate one form of smoking over the other.

Traditional tobacco cigarette use among teens is at an all-time low. While that is cause to celebrate, the reason may not be. Teen vaping is rising dramatically. “Vaping” is slang for smoking electronic cigarettes—also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs, vapes, and vapor cigarettes. These devices emerged when smoking was banned in many public areas and have become a $3.5 billion industry.

Today, 40 million Americans smoke e-cigarettes and experts predict the industry will grow 25% annually through 2018. Wall Street predicts revenue from e-cigs will surpass traditional tobacco cigarettes by 2025.

Very few regulations are in place, giving teens easy access and allowing manufacturers to advertise freely, unlike tobacco companies which are restricted. Smoking e-cigs exposes teens to the same dangers of nicotine addiction as a tobacco cigarette, plus uncertain long-term health effects from chemicals in the liquid nicotine solutions.

Teen Vaping: Seeing Through the Vapor

The e-cig industry is a $3.5 billion industry that projects a 25% annual growth through 2018 and revenues are expected to surpass that of traditional tobacco cigarettes by 2025. With few regulations, e-cig companies are free to use their money to advertise on television channels that attract younger audiences, spending $115 million on ads in 2014, an increase of 1,696%!

Of the 40 million Americans that smoke e-cigarettes, 2.6 million are middle and high school aged teens, and the number appears to be climbing every year. E-cigs expose teens to health risks such as nicotine addiction and long-term health effects that might contribute to brain damage. Much is unknown about the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, and even less is known about the damage it can do to developing teenagers.

Teens Are Fastest Growing Segment

Over 2.6 million middle and high school aged teens are using e-cigarettes. That’s equal to the entire population of Nevada.

Between 2011 and 2014, teen use of e-cigarettes increased 800% and the number of teens using e-cigarettes continues to rise.

  • 13.46% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2014 compared to 1.5% in 2011.
  • 3.9% of middle school students used e-cigarettes in 2014 compared to 1.1% in 2011.

Ad Spending Increased Dramatically in 3 Years

Over the last few years, e-cigarette companies have increased advertising spending.

  • In 2011, e-cigarette companies spent $6.4 million on advertisements
  • In 2014, e-cigarette companies spent $115 million, an increase of 1,696%

Adults aren’t the only people seeing these ads.

  • 66% of middle school students saw at least one e-cig ad in 2014
  • 71% of high school students saw at least one e-cig ad in 2014

1950s Advertising Tactics—Reboot of Tobacco Companies

Most e-cig advertisements appear on TV and radio stations that draw a large teenage audience. The ads employ themes of sex, independence, popularity, and rebellion—just like the ones used to sell tobacco cigarettes to teens in the 1950s.

“The same advertising tactics the tobacco industry used years ago to get kids addicted to nicotine are now being used to entice an entire new generation of young people to use e-cigarettes,” says Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the Center for Disease Control.

The advertisements are working. The increase of advertising between 2011-2014 has correlated with an increase of e-cigarette usage among middle and high school students.

More than 18 million youths were exposed to e-cigarette advertisements in 2014. With no regulation on advertising, e-cigarette companies can use both print and television advertising.

  • 14.4 million youth are exposed to e-cig ads at retail stores  
  • 10.5 million youth are exposed to e-cig ads through the internet  
  • 9.6 million youth are exposed to e-cig ads through TV/Movies
  • 8 million youth are exposed to e-cig ads through magazines/newspapers

Why are Teens Vaping?

E-cigarettes became an attractive option for people wanting to quit the traditional cigarette habit. However, only 10% of teens report using e-cigarettes to quit smoking.

  • 40% of teens use e-cigarettes because of how they taste 
  • 23% of teens use e-cigarettes because of boredom  
  • 21% of teens use e-cigarettes to relax or relieve tension  
  • 13% of teens use e-cigarettes because it looks cool  

Teens also admitted to using e-cigarettes to:

  • See what it’s like
  • Get high
  • Fit in with friends

Some teens even stated they continue to use e-cigarettes because they’re “hooked.”

E-Cigarettes Shrouded In Misconceptions

Teens may also be drawn to e-cigarettes due to common misconceptions:

Myth:  E-cigarettes don’t have nicotine
Fact:    Almost all e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Many have wide discrepancies about how much is in the product compared to what they claim is in the product.

Myth: E-cigarettes aren’t addictive
Fact:   With almost all e-cigarettes containing nicotine, use of e-cigarettes can create addiction to the nicotine in the product.

Myth: There are no secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes
Fact:   Aerosol emitted by e-cigarettes and exhaled by users contains carcinogens like formaldehyde. Little is known about the emissions and the harm they might cause.

What’s in e-Cigarettes?

Vaporizing devices such as e-cigarettes and nicotine-based liquid are unregulated. No packaging requirements exist for accurately representing ingredients in liquid nicotine solutions, so manufacturers are allowed to create and disperse products with no oversight on what is actually in e-cig nicotine liquid.

While labeled as an alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes still contain nicotine. The liquid nicotine is not only addictive but stunts brain development in youth.

There are over 500 different brands of e-cigarettes and over 7,700 flavors of nicotine liquid all without FDA regulation; the health hazards are uncertain when inhaled.

Common ingredients found in e-cigs nicotine solutions:

  • Diethylene glycol (DEG), a toxic chemical also found in antifreeze
  • Formaldehyde, an embalming fluid—five times more in e-cigarettes than cigarettes
  • Propylene glycol, a chemical found in aircraft de-icing fluid
  • Nicotine in e-cigs makes teens three times more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes within 1 year
  • Diacetyl, a naturally occurring chemical found in some foods like beans, apples, and vinegar. It becomes dangerous when heated or boiled as in e-cigs
  • Artificial flavorings.  Over 7,700 flavors of nicotine liquid on the market.

Exploding e-Cigarettes

From 2012-2015, over 30 cases have been reported of e-cigarettes exploding while charging or while the e-cigarette was in use. 80% of explosions have occurred when e-cigarettes were charging, but in some cases, e-cigarettes have exploded or caught on fire in user’s pockets, hands, or mouths, causing severe burns. One explosion even caused death.

Calls to Poison Centers Increase

Monthly poison center calls related to e-cigarettes have gone from 1 in 2010 to 215 in 2014, causing the creation of the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act. This requires child resistant packaging for liquid nicotine as it only takes one teaspoon of liquid nicotine to kill a toddler.

Monthly poison center calls related to e-cigs:

  • 3,783 in 2014
  • 271 in 2011
  • 1 in 2010

Likely Harmful Effects of e-Cigarettes

  • High probability of becoming addicted to nicotine
  • Respiratory illnesses, lung irritation, and worsened breathing problems like bronchitis and asthma
  • Lung damage characterized by airway resistance, cellular changes, and other signs of inflammation
  • The water holding effect of e-cigarette vapor can dry out nasal passages, leading to bloody noses
  • Over 575% more compromised immune responses than tobacco smokers
    • Tobacco smokers suppress 53 immune genes
    • E-Cig smokers suppress 358 immune genes

Harvard University found evidence that artificial flavoring chemicals in 47 of the 51 types of flavored e-liquids they tested cause respiratory problems. As more research is done, more dangers may be found.

What Can We Do?

In a recent study, teens under the age of 18 were able to easily buy e-cigarettes online in 94% of their attempts.  None of the underage teens were asked to show proof of age when the packages were delivered. While e-cigarettes are slowly becoming more regulated, certain restrictions could further prevent underage teens from buying e-cigarettes:

  • Require age verification to enter e-cigarette vendor’s websites, make purchases, and accept deliveries of e-cigarettes.
  • Require e-cigarettes be sold through face-to-face transactions only rather than through the internet.
  • Increase taxes on nicotine products to potentially deter younger individuals from purchasing e-cigarettes.
  • Raise the minimum age of sale for nicotine products to 18 years old.
  • Place FDA regulations on advertisements.
  • Restrict the number of stores that sell nicotine products and how close they can be to schools.

While there is no surefire way of limiting e-cigarettes for underage teens, the steps above may help prevent underage teens from getting their hands on e-cigarettes.

How Can We Protect Teens?

  • Educate and discuss the pros and cons with teens in our lives
  • Counter vaping ads with educational ads about harmful side effects
  • Require age verification at point of sale
  • Prohibit online sales
  • Raise minimum age of e-cig sale to 18
  • Restrict number of stores and their proximity to schools

What Are The Warning Signs?

If you catch a whiff of fruit punch, bubble gum, mint, or any other uncharacteristic flavor coming from your teen’s room and you don’t find any juice containers or candy wrappers, they might be using e-cigarettes. Other signs your teen might be using e-cigarettes include:

  • Dry Cough
  • Dry Skin
  • Irritated Mouth or Throat
  • Increased fluid intake
  • Passing on caffeine when they didn’t before

If you are worried your teen is using or considering using e-cigarettes, you can:

  • Research e-cigarettes so you are clear what they look like
  • Educate your child about the dangers of e-cigarettes and nicotine
  • Set an example by not using e-cigarettes

“We did an amazing job getting kids off cigarettes in this country,” said Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of the division of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “We see a jump that has the potential to obliterate all the work we did with tobacco cigarettes.”

Regardless of seemingly innocent nicotine flavors, e-cigarettes are another way for teens to be exposed to addictive, potentially harmful substances at a young age. Nicotine can delay brain development, and the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown. Consider monitoring your teenager’s behavior to ensure they don’t risk their health and become one of the 2.6 million American teens using e-cigarettes.