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Vaping habits can impact teens’ brain development, and it’s easy to hide

(AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

E-cigarette use among teens has reached epidemic levels, and cases of lung disease — linked to vaping, nationwide — isn’t the only concern. From 2016 to 2018, vaping among Washington State tenth graders rose from 13 to 21 percent and among 12th graders it increased from 20 to 30 percent.

A 17-year-old Seattle girl admits she uses e-cigarettes: “My friends did it. It was cool. It helps you feel part of the group.” Another attraction is the taste, “like fruity flavors and minty flavors.” She knows it’s not good for her and so does her mom, who asked us not to use her or her daughter’s name.

“She is asthmatic and it’s a big concern of mine because her lungs can be compromised.”

Vaping-related lung disease is linked to more than a dozen deaths nationwide, but that isn’t the only thing parents have to worry about.

Dr. Yolanda Evans, with Seattle Children’s Hospital, says that “We know that the brain isn’t finished developing until you’re in your mid-twenties, and so using substances that are going to give you a high are going to change the way pathways work in your brain.”

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Nicotine can cause memory and attention problems, contribute to impulsive behavior, and re-wire an adolescent’s brain to become addicted not just to nicotine but other substances as well. And when you vape, King County Public Health Doctor Jeff Duchin says you get a big dose of nicotine: “Some of the e-cigarette pods can contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.”

Vaping addiction is easy for teens to hide

Part of the issue is that teens get addicted to an e-cigarette habit, a habit that is often easy to hide.

“Manufacturers are getting really savvy,” Season Oltman of the American Lung Association said. “These products look like a USB drive, or sometimes a cell phone or sometimes a hard drive. They’re highly concealable.”

She says even that tell-tale “poof” of exhaled-vapor may soon disappear: “Some of these new products are salt based and so they don’t have that big vapor cloud.” The Lung Association is partnering with schools to educate teens about vaping  and help them quit. But she warns it’s like trying quit cigarettes.

“Many of those people are not going to quit on a first attempt. I’ve seen studies from eight quit attempts up to 30 quit attempts.”

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Mom knows that too well. She’s thrown away her daughter’s e-cigarettes, grounded her, taken away privileges. Now she’s focused on educating her about the risks.

But she worries, “This is something we’re not going to win. It’s so attractive so easy to conceal. I know that she was doing it at home, at school. It’s very difficult and when I have conversations with parents, it’s definitely a big concern to every one. Because it’s so easy and accessible.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has told the State Board of Health to ban flavored vaping products, which he says appeal to children. And in January, new restrictions take effect that will only allow adults 21 and over to purchase tobacco or e-cigarette products.

Mom worries that it’s not enough to keep kids from vaping.

“Again, sometimes I think it’s a battle we’re not going to win.”

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