After several decades of slowly chipping away at the use of cigarettes among Americans—especially American youth—parents are now worried about a new trend: using e-cigarettes, also known as “vaping.”
Today, U.S. teens are more likely to use e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes: Among 10th graders, 14 percent report using e-cigs, while just 6.3 percent admit to smoking cigarettes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
For a while, e-cigarettes were praised for being a “harm reduction” compared to traditional cigarettes. Many long-time smokers switched to vapes, which offer nicotine in a slightly less toxic form. However, that doesn’t make them “safe,” and doctors don’t advise anyone to start using e-cigarettes if they’re not already smokers. (Learn more about what doctors say about e-cigarettes.)
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently put out a statement notifying the public of a recent uptick in seizures that appears to be linked to vaping, mostly among teens and young adults.
Here’s the problem: Nicotine toxicity has long been known to cause seizures. This raises concern for e-cig users, since many devices used for vaping actually pack in higher concentrations of nicotine than traditional cigarettes. In fact, some vapes provide as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, according to the FDA.
At toxic levels, all that nicotine can cause side effects, including seizures. Seizures are caused by sudden and abnormal brain activity, and they result in loss of muscle control, convulsions, and loss of consciousness—but some seizures are more mild and cause unusual movements, staring blankly, and stillness. Not all seizures cause brain damage (although some do), but they can cause injuries.
Despite this risk of nicotine toxicity, a shocking number of U.S. teens actually know what they’re inhaling from their e-cigs. In one survey, only 13.2 percent knew their vape provided nicotine, 5.8 percent thought they were actually inhaling marijuana, and an astounding 66 percent believed they were inhaling “just flavoring,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Experts want teens and their parents to know the risks of vaping to disrupt the rising and rapid trend in vaping among youth. Start an open and ongoing dialogue with your kid about the risks of vaping—and set a strong example by being smoke-free yourself.