Return to Teach

How Dangerous is Vaping to Young Minds?

Some people are saying that it is safer than smoking. However, its really actually not true? I have been discussing this with some students this week and its interesting how much the research is developing into a really bad scenario where some think its ok and really have not seen the science. So here it is as currently shown in 2023. See what you think?

The smoking of cigarettes remains one of the biggest contributors to poor health in this country, and many others. However, the number of deaths caused by smoking is falling – but it is still the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death and is estimated to cause a quarter of all cancer deaths. In 2019, it accounted for 75,000 deaths in England – 15% of the total. Numbers of smokers have tumbled so much that the government has confidently set out an ambition for England to be smoke-free by 2030. It should be noted that “smoke-free” is defined as having fewer than 5% of the population smoking.

One of its current tactics is to actively promote vapes as an alternative for those who find it difficult to quit. Officially the government’s tactic is known as “swap to stop” – suggesting health ministers would prefer the switch to vapes to be part of a transition into giving up completely on inhaling any nicotine product.

The e-cigarette vapour that is inhaled can still contain small amounts of chemicals that are found in cigarettes, including nicotine. But while it is addictive and can lead to dependence issues, nicotine is not seen by the NHS as among the most truly problematic ingredient in cigarettes.

Most importantly for them, vapes do not contain tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. Other chemicals that are found in tobacco smoke feature in much lower levels in e-cigarette vapour.

In the grand scheme of things, it is still a little early to tell how harmful these levels truly are. Many vapers are former smokers and that naturally complicates long-term studies into the effects on public health.

But Prof John Britton, who advised the government on the issue, says in 40 or 50 years’ time, we will start to see people developing lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and other serious lung conditions as a result of their vaping. But those numbers are likely to be small – and far smaller than the health issues caused by smoking.

Dentists already say they are seeing some side effects of vaping, such as bad breath, ulcers, soreness in some areas and a dry mouth. This could lead to a lack of saliva and, potentially, tooth decay. But they say a high prevalence of bleeding gums is actually a side effect of people giving up smoking rather than taking up vaping.

There is the separate issue of the dangers posed by illegal vape products, which are cheaper and attractive to young people with little money. Used vapes gathered by Baxter College, a secondary school in Kidderminster, were tested in a laboratory and found to contain high levels of lead, nickel and chromium. High lead exposure in children can affect the central nervous system and brain development.

Another health issue only occurs with illegal vape products. Diacetyl, a flavouring that can be used in e-liquids but is banned in the UK, is associated with the serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans, otherwise known as “popcorn lung”.

Just two years ago, the authorities were confident in one thing. Surveys of under-18s suggested they were rejecting the idea of using vapes as resolutely as they had been turning away from smoking.

But since then, there has been a significant upswing. The campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said the proportion of 11 to 17-year-olds who said they have tried vaping has jumped from 13.9% in 2020 to 15.8% in 2022 and then 20.5% in their survey this year.

The proportion who now define themselves are regular vapers is now double the number of child smokers – although there is of course some overlap.

Frontal Lobes…..

There has been research into how it effects the pre-frontal cortex and in 2008 deBry and Tiffany proposed that inhaling nicotine during early adolescence leads to increased impulsivity and inattention resulting from changes in PFC function.

Human studies that show that early onset expose to nicotine contributes to long-lasting decreases in task-related attention and inhibitory control behaviours 

Teen e-cigarette use results in lower academic achievement. There are no significant differences between the impact of using e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes on school performance, suggesting an important role for nicotine.

This is consistent with clinical observations of a bidirectional association of depression with teen smoking and vaping

The Nucleus Accumbens and the “gateway hypothesis”….

The NAc is a critical region for reward and reinforcement. This is consistent with of a unique sensitivity of the early adolescent period to nicotine effects on reward pathways as compared to late adolescence and adulthood.

This also provides a biological basis for the clinical observation that the age of first cigarette use is a critical determinant of tobacco dependence, with those who begin in their early teens having the greatest difficulty quitting.

Clinical studies have shown that nicotine exposure during adolescence, but not adulthood, is associated with subsequent increases in substance use (i.e., “gateway hypothesis”)

Permanent link to this article: