Paediatricians have warned vaping is “fast becoming an epidemic among children.” Now, disposable vapes are set to be banned as part of plans to tackle the rising number of young people taking up vaping, the government says.
Measures will also be introduced to prevent vapes from being marketed to children and to target underage sales.
A study by researchers in Canada found that young people who vape are twice as likely to report chronic stress compared with their peers who do not vape. Study lead, Dr Teresa To, a senior scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children, undertook a detailed analysis of 905 people aged between 15 and 30, of whom 115 (12.7%) said they had used e-cigarettes.
But how bad really is vaping for young people? What are the risks? And how do parents talk to their young people about it? Family psychotherapist Fiona Yassin, has answered parents’ most common questions on the topic.
How does vaping affect the developing brain?
Human brains are complex and intricate. Brains take years to fully develop, continuing to grow and change well after our physical growth has stopped. Young people’s brains usually keep developing until their mid-20s.
Yassin says: “Because a young person’s brain is still developing, they are more vulnerable to the impact of certain external and internal factors. Distressing experiences, substances, and trauma can not only impact their current physical and mental health but also affect the way their brain develops in the future. This may lead to long-term changes in their mental health, physical well-being, and interactions with others.”
What impact does nicotine have on a teen’s brain?
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive substance that is also found in cigarettes; some vapes contain nicotine even when they are advertised or sold as “nicotine-free”. Research has found that nicotine can harm a young person’s developing brain, affecting brain regions that control learning, mood, attention, and impulse control.
Yassin comments: “When we create new memories or learn new skills, we build connections between different brain cells. These connections are known as synapses. During the adolescent developmental stage, our brains build synapses more quickly, helping young people to learn new skills.
“Nicotine affects the way that our brains form synapses, causing stronger connections between certain brain cells and regions. This can change the way that different parts of the brain communicate with each other and speed up or slow down brain activity. These changes can affect the way young people learn, their ability to focus, and their impulsivity. Using nicotine during adolescence may also make young people more vulnerable to developing addictions when they are older.”
Will vaping impact my child’s mental health and academic performance?
There is a lot of research connecting traditional cigarettes to “social maladaptation” – thought and behavioural patterns that make it more difficult for young people to navigate daily life.
Research shows that cigarette smoking is linked to:
- Poor academic performance
- Sleep problems
- Cognitive impairment
- Attention deficits
- Aggressive and impulsive behaviour.
Yassin says: “Some scientists think that these connections may be partially underpinned by a phenomenon known as oxidative stress, a kind of imbalance in the body that is responsible for many of the harmful effects of cigarette smoke.
“Researchers have found that many chemicals found in e-cigarettes, including flavouring, e-liquids, and the metallic coil, may cause oxidative stress in young people. As a result, smoking e-cigarettes may affect a young person’s mental health, education, and behaviours – with or without the presence of nicotine.”
Yassin says vaping also has physical health risks: “Vaping puts young people at risk of developing serious health conditions. It has been linked to lung disease, heart disease, and some types of cancer.”
How can I speak to my child about vaping?
Yassin suggests that if you’re concerned that your child is vaping, you may want to have an open conversation about their behaviour and your worries.
Yassin says: “Make sure that you come from a place of care and concern rather than judgement. Listen to what they have to say and ask them questions about the reasons that they vape. Avoid using threats and ultimatums; instead, tell them directly and clearly that you don’t want them to vape and explain the dangers and risks.
“If a young person has been using e-cigarettes that contain nicotine, they may have developed an addiction to vaping. Addiction is a medical condition caused by physical changes in the brain that can make it hard to stop without treatment or support. If your child wants to stop vaping but is unable to, you may want to speak to them about professional help. Doctors, other mental health professionals, and specialist programmes can offer effective support for smoking cessation and help young people leave e-cigarettes behind.”