UK HealthCast: Vaping among adolescents

Illustration of vaping devices juxtaposed with the UK HealthCare logo.

UK HealthCast is a podcast series featuring interviews with UK HealthCare experts on a variety of health-related topics.

For this episode, we spoke to Dr. Cathy Martin, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, about the health impacts of vaping on adolescents.

Why does vaping seem to be popular among teens?

Dr. Martin: There are a couple of reasons. One is that the developers really made it very appealing to teens by flavoring it and packaging it in exciting ways. So that would be probably number one. Number two is that kids like to experiment. I mean, that's part of being a teenager and this is a new thing to experiment with.

Are teens more susceptible to vaping addiction than adults?

Dr. Martin: Absolutely. The teen brain is in a very unique stage of development. It's the middle part of the brain, which is called the striatum, where addiction risk lies. Wanting to experiment and do new, exciting things is way ahead of the front part of the brain, or the prefrontal cortex. So the balance between making good, thoughtful decisions, and planning and doing exciting things is a bit dysregulated or off center. So kids, because of that, are more likely to experiment with things and then become dependent on them.

What are the health risks associated with vaping in younger people?

Dr. Martin: The first and most worrisome drug is the nicotine. Nicotine itself is not a concern, but it is very addicting. And once you start to use nicotine, you rapidly move to dependence. And this is may be particularly true with vaping, because it's so easily accessible. It's a pleasant experience, it's flavored, it doesn't burn your lungs as much. So it's very easy to go quickly from occasional use to really frequent use, maybe many hits during the day.

It also has ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. The flavorings have a chemical called diatecyl that's linked to serious lung disease. They are volatile or organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead. And not only do you expose yourself to these toxins, but you're exposing people near you.

What is the best way parents can speak to their children about vaping?

Dr. Martin: Kids do listen to their parents and even like with traditional cigarettes, if the parent is a smoker and they talk to their youth about not smoking, they can have a big influence on them. So they need to be straightforward and open about it in a nonjudgmental, good conversational tone. The teen needs to feel they're being supported and they have an ally in their parent or a healthcare provider. And you begin to balance out what are the risks, what are the benefits, what are the causes.

One of the things we found with traditional tobacco is one of the number one reasons kids wanted to stop smoking was their breath stank when they kissed. So you don't know what window you're going to get through. Kids may say, "Oh, I can't run as fast. I get short of breath quicker." You want to help the teen figure out how vaping is interfering with their life. And they may struggle with that, but that's the first step: What's the risk-benefit to ratio to them? The other thing is parents can be very clear, "I really don't want you doing this and we will come up with a reward system to reinforce you not using."

Listen to the UK HealthCast episode with Dr. Cathy Martin below.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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