Vaping and the Teenage Mind – Well being and Way of life

By Gelyka Ruth R. Dumaraos
Photos from Ramir G. changed

Vito * will be introduced to steaming for the first time in 2016. He just turned 14. A classmate brought an e-cigarette to school and they both snuck into the bathroom to try. As a beginner, Vito remembers how interested and amazed he was. It had a hot, chocolatey aroma, he recalls. He puffed a few times, coughed a few times, and then puffed more. Since then, Vito and his classmate have alternately shared it among their colleagues between classes.

Yuan * is now a 27-year-old advertising professional who has been steaming for 16 years. Growing up with an uncle smoker, cigarettes have always been a household necessity. He was often asked to buy a few sticks from the nearby variety store. He had tried smoking tobacco early in his teenage life but later switched to e-cigarettes. It was safer and more manageable, he says.

The two have different stories about how they started. But theirs only reflect millions of stories around the world – just a few needles in the haystack of millions of teenagers interested in this alarming tobacco alternative.

Public health threat

The disruptive data is already there. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) National Youth Tobacco Survey 2019 show that more than five million American teenagers have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Almost a million use it every day.

There are over 230,000 electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) users in the Philippines as of 2018. According to the National Nutrition Survey, every fifth vape user is under the age of 20.

One of the most alarming risks of vaping is its possible impact on a teenage brain

The first documented case in our country was in November 2019 when a 16-year-old girl from the central Philippines was reportedly hospitalized for severe shortness of breath and met criteria for an e-cigarette vaping lung injury (EVALI). The patient was found to have been using e-cigarettes for six months.

There has been no other case related to vaping that has been documented and reported. There is a global call to raise awareness about the harms of e-cigarettes, especially among young people, who have been the target of the industry since its inception.

Safer alternative?

Yuan always knew that. “I’ve tried to smoke tobacco before, but it wasn’t just for me,” said Yuan. “I chose vape instead. I know this is safer than tobacco so I just stick with it. “

Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, executive director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), says e-cigarettes only hit the US market 15 years ago. It’s also too early to say that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking, but it’s certain that health issues have already been identified, he says.

E-cigarettes and the brain

One of the most alarming risks of vaping is its possible impact on a teenage brain. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can damage the developing brain.

For young users, side effects such as decreased pain and other negative emotional symptoms such as anxiety are cited.

For one thing, Vito remembers feeling relaxed and calm at times, but there are certain moments when he feels tired and down. “It depends on how I feel about vaping,” he says. “Sometimes I feel positive. But when I run into problems at school and in my family, I usually feel so down. “

In the USA, a study by the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease in Baltimore with lead author Dr. Olufunmilayo Obisesan suggested that there is a strong link between vaping and depression. The study was published on the JAMA Network.

In search of a safer alternative to cigarettes, the electronic cigarette was advertised as being safer. Smokers tend to seek out e-cigarettes to avoid smoking tobacco.

The experts showed that current e-cigarette users are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as people who have never used depression. And former users were more likely to have bouts of depression. However, researchers point out that this study fails to prove that vape directly causes depression.

Another expert now emphasizes that nicotine “messes up the human brain”. Dr. Shawna Newman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says depression increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. “In the short term, nicotine might improve your mood somewhat, but long-term exposure seems to have some profound negative effects on mood.”

Nicotine addiction

But what is probably considered to be the biggest harm from nicotine while vaping is the nicotine addiction that can occur in your teens.

“The brain matures by the age of 25,” says Dr. Rizalina Raquel H. Gonzalez, Chair of the Tobacco Control Advocacy Group of the Philippine Pediatric Society. “The last part of the brain that matures is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), or the CEO, which is responsible for impulse control and judgment.”

When a young user uses an e-cigarette frequently, this part of the brain is affected. She says, “Repeated inhalation of nicotine affects the maturation of this PFC by recruiting the dopamine reward pathway.”

The brain then becomes accustomed to more pleasant feelings leading to an addiction that alters the brain’s supposed wiring and connections for control and affects the user’s brain in the long run.

For young users, side effects such as decreased pain and other negative emotional symptoms such as anxiety are cited.

In addition, Dr. Gonzalez found that young people’s brains synapse faster than adults’ brains. “Because addiction is a form of learning, adolescents can become addicted more easily than adults.”

Dr. Ortiz agrees, saying that tobacco use is most common among young teenagers because they exhibit behaviors characterized by risk-taking, novelty-seeking, experimentation, and the age at which they develop their decision-making and planning, and impulse control.

“The most common first-time tobacco use is among young teenagers,” she says. “The earlier you start, the less likely it is that you will be able to stop using tobacco products, and the more likely he / she will continue to use tobacco in large quantities.”

As they try experiments with vaping and its easy-to-use features and practical devices, the teenagers perceive the positive effects on them that lead them to keep their habit. Hence, a teen is likely to develop nicotine addiction even after they have passed their experimental phase.

Dr. Ortiz added that about 2/3 of those who smoke by the age of 12 become regular adult smokers, while half of those who smoke in 11th or 17th grade are normal adult smokers. Even infrequent experimentation with smoking cigarettes can increase your risk of becoming a regular adult smoker.

Yuan admits to vaping at a certain time of the day, usually in the afternoon when he is done with work. “It was a part of me every day,” he says. “And I don’t think I’ll ever stop that in the future. I’d rather use that than go back to cigarettes. “

For Vito, who is now in the 4th year of vaping, he can only use his steam once a week as he hasn’t had enough allowances since the online training started.

PH versus vaping

With the seemingly increasing data of teenagers interested in vaping, the country’s current programs to regulate e-cigarettes and combat its harmful effects on users are still a long way off.

After the first recorded vaping-related injury last year, the Department of Health (DOH) had plans to introduce measures to document vaping injuries, but the vaping industry challenged it in court and stopped implementing it. The health bureau continues to actively fight fumes and smoking, passing on all associated health risks and highlighting its effects on the lungs, brain and other parts of the body.

The regulations are also limited to product standards of the Food and Drug Administration and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Dr. Dorotheo added, “The recent amendment to the Sin Tax Act requires the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, and the FDA was in the process of developing new regulations under that mandate as the COVID-19 pandemic set in.”

For its part, the Ministry of Education has taken a similar position in its role as educator for youth. Several local government units have also enacted ordinances banning both smoking and vaping in public places.

However, it can be noted that some legislators in the House of Commons are pushing for legislation to lower the minimum age for access to e-cigarettes from 21 to 18 years.

In their statement against vaping, SEATCA strongly opposes e-cigarettes and states that they are not harmless and can kill people. “Whether they are less harmful and how much less harmful compared to cigarettes is still uncertain. E-cigarette devices and their use are attractive even to young people, ”the statement said. “While proven tobacco control measures are stepping up to help smokers quit, strict precautions must be taken to prevent a new epidemic.”

Save the boys

As a doctor, parent, and public health advocate, Dr. Dorotheo, how important it is to educate young people about nicotine addiction.

“My advice to teens would be that they investigate nicotine addiction, the health issues already identified, and the tactics of the tobacco and vapor industry to target adolescents as substitute smokers and then ask if they’re ready to be the nicotine addicts these companies target them. “

Typically packaged in handy, e-liquids come in thousands of different tempting flavors that are mixed into solutions called humectants to create attractive clouds when heated.

He adds that parents / guardians should educate themselves about vaping and its harm, especially to children, and support and understand their children and help them stop vaping as soon as possible.

Likewise, Dr. Gonzalez encouraged young people to quit vaping and smoking in order to save the body and brain from potential health risks in the future.

Vaping is viewed by medical experts as a misrepresentation of a safer alternative to smoking. You cannot give a solution that is only harmful to your health.

As millions of teenagers and youngsters like Vito and Yuan turn to e-cigarettes, it also makes false promises and endangers the health of the young and developing body and brain in the long run.

This story was produced as part of the Nagbabagang Kuwento Media Fellowship Program Cycle 4 by Probe Media Foundation Inc. (PMFI) and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Children (CFTFK). The views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the PMFI and CFTFK.

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