Vaping new gateway to substance abuse

Mindy Frimodig
Special to NEW Media

Kids have always looked for ways to rebel, and often in unsafe ways. However, the fear of getting caught has usually been a good deterrent for most kids.

It is pretty clear when a teenager comes home acting weird, with the smell of alcohol on his or her breath. In the same way, smoking cigarettes or marijuana is really hard to hide, because you can smell it on everything, and you certainly cannot do it in your own house without it being noticed.

Historically, this hasn’t kept young kids away from experimenting with these substances, but it has typically kept them from using them often enough to develop a full blown addiction in early adolescence.

This is no longer the case with vaping or e-cigarettes. These devices used are much easier to conceal, and even use, in plain sight without being noticed. This compounded by the already known addictive nature that nicotine has on young, still developing brains has made for the perfect storm.

E-cigarettes were initially developed and marketed as a means of smoking cessation for adults and, when actually used for that reason with the intent and plan to quit smoking cigarettes, they are likely safer than traditional cigarettes (at least they have fewer chemicals). Unfortunately, current studies report that most adults who switch to e-cigarettes are not actually quitting, and often end up using both, just increasing nicotine consumption.

The real problem with e-cigarettes though started when these devices started appealing to kids and even indirectly being marketed toward them: yummy flavors, no nicotine, although many non-nicotine solutions still test positive for small amounts of the addictive substance.

Most adults using e-devices were former or current cigarette smokers. In contrast, 40% of adolescents who use these devices have never even smoked a cigarette, so this is becoming their new gateway into controlled substance use and abuse.

Bringing us back to my original point about it being easier to conceal and hide, this is where the problem lies with kids. Because they are able to hide it and use it so often, the amounts of nicotine they are inhaling is exponentially more than if they were smoking a cigarette out back after school (although not condoning this either). This is leading to significant levels of early addiction and mood alteration, especially when they have to go without.

These e-devices which are so easy to hide, are also becoming more widely used for elicit substances like THC, meth, opioids and others. This significantly increases the risks of using these devices, especially if kids are passing them around not knowing where they came from. What may just have been thought to be a nicotine-containing device may actually have something far far more deadly included.

In addition to the addiction issue with these e-devices, we are also seeing cases of acute lung injury in kids, which is not something we have ever seen in kids smoking traditional cigarettes or even marijuana. By 2020, there had been at least 68 reported deaths in adolescents from e-cigarette/vaping associated lung injury.

Please talk to your kids at a really early age about the dangers of e-cigarettes/vaping, as use of these devices is starting in elementary school in many cases. If used often enough, by the time you get around to talking with your child about their dangers, they may already be addicted. Whether they are sold as nicotine-free or not, these are not safe in any fashion for kids.

Dr. Mindy Frimodig is a family physician at ThedaCare Physicians in Shawano and a member of the Community Health Action Team.