Vaping has been an epidemic among teenagers for many years. As the parent of a teenager myself, I panic when I think about the prospect of my child inhaling toxic crap into his lungs. I don’t even like the idea of him being around others who might be vaping.
The scary thing is that the problem is so pervasive that I don’t think any of us can be sure our kids won’t at least be around other vaping teens at some point or other. It’s quite likely that many of our teens will try vaping, or even make it a habit.
Vaping isn’t the same stuff we were dealing with as teenagers. Traditional cigarettes are, and were, horrible for your health. But e-cigarettes can cause more immediate and deadly damage. The incidents of lung illnesses and deaths linked to teen vaping over the past few years is completely horrifying.
According to the New York Times, several teenagers have died from Vaping-Associated Lung Injury, and many have been hospitalized. A Texas teen was hospitalized after only vaping for one month. One. Month. That’s terrifying.
The FDA and CDC recently released a report about the current state of vaping and teenagers, and it’s … not great.
Let’s start with the (kinda, sorta) good news. According to the report, which compiled data from middle schoolers and high schoolers from January 2021 to May 2021, there was actually a drop in the number of teenagers who are vaping. According to the survey, 11% of high schoolers and 3% of middle schoolers vaped or used e-cigarettes.
As the Associated Press notes, that was a 40% drop from the year before, when 20% of high school students and 5% of middle school school students used these products. That sounds good on the surface, but the most recent survey was conducted during the pandemic, when a majority of students were home, and had less access to vaping products and e-cigarettes. So experts are concerned that these numbers are going to spike again now that kids are back in school.
Still, that does represent far fewer kids taking that garbage into their lungs, and that’s ultimately a good thing. It may also represent a decline in the popularity of vaping among teens. At least, some experts hope so.
“They found a dramatic drop from last year and it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t represent a real decrease in use among high school and middle school students,” Dr. Nancy Rigotti, from Harvard University, told the Associated Press.
At the same time, these numbers still represent a TON of kids vaping—and finding ways to do so even when they were stuck at home with their parents. In total, according to the FDA, these new numbers represent 2 million high school and middle schoolers using these products. 2 MILLION! The majority are in high school (1.7 million), but 320,000 middle schoolers are vaping too, which I find especially troubling.
Not only that, but the report found that teens’ preferences when it comes to vaping have changed. Just a few years ago, JUUL e-cigarettes were all the rage. Now, just 5.7% of high schoolers and 19.3% of middle schoolers use JUULs. Instead, their brand of choice is a product called Puff Bars, a disposable e-cigarette.
The problem with Puff Bars, according to TIME, is that they aren’t as heavily regulated by the FDA as JUULs are. While JUUL can no longer sell products with enticing fruity flavors to teens, Puff Bars still can. Among their most popular products are Blue Razz and Watermelon flavored e-cigarettes.
These sorts of flavored products are part of what hooks teenagers on these products, which is why the FDA is doing what they can to crack down them. But according to TIME, they have not been successful as of yet with Puff Bars.
“The FDA tried to remove Puff Bar from the market in 2020 for violating regulatory requirements, but it reemerged this year using a type of lab-made nicotine that some in the vaping industry argue the FDA can’t regulate,” TIME shares.
UGHHH. Is there anything more despicable than profiting off of teenagers, while simultaneously putting their health in danger? I think not.
I’m not sure what can and should be done about vaping and teens. In some ways, “teens will be teens,” and we have to let them learn by asserting their independence, making mistakes, and learning from them. But when it comes to something that is such a serious—and potentially immediate—threat to their health, it’s hard to feel okay about allowing that to happen.
Ultimately, vaping becomes an addiction for kids, and they need support if they are going to break the habit. As parents, I think the best we can do is to educate our teens, support their mental health, and make sure they know that if they are having a problem with something like vaping, we are a safe place sort out their feelings, and get them the help they need.