SPECIAL REPORT: Health impact of vaping on children & teens

Updated: Nov. 18, 2019 at 10:27 PM CST
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (TNN) - The Centers for Disease Control has reported that lung injuries linked to vaping disproportionately affect young people.

The number of kids of all ages using devices with flavored liquid nicotine continues to grow each year. It is a problem that has become so prevalent, health educators find themselves talking to kids about it as much as they do traditional cigarettes.

When Clint Vines was in high school, it was not vaping that all his friends were doing. At 15, he picked up cigarettes.

The singer-songwriter has passed down his love for music to his five-year-old son Tucker, but smoking is a habit he does not want to pass along.

Now he is trying a new approach to quitting.

“I chose to start vaping because I needed something that didn’t hurt my throat as much. When I went to the JUUL – I use a JUUL – I have no issues and can sing better. I have a higher range, and don’t get winded as often,” Vines said.

What Vines sees as one of benefits of vaping, health educators like Amanda Kennedy see it as one of the unfortunate reasons so many underage kids have taken it up.

“The pH balance in e-cigarettes is more acidic. When something is more acidic in our body it feels smoother. So, it doesn’t burn as bad. So, youth don’t understand…so the harm is almost masked.” Kennedy stated.

According to the CDC, more than 1-in-4 high school students vape, but it is not just teens coming in contact with the flavored liquids that contain nicotine. Toddlers are getting a hold of the liquid, which is toxic for them.

"Calls to poison control have increased,” Kennedy said.

Health professionals say vaping is relatively new, so they do not know the long term affects it is having on kids and teenagers. But, they do know what nicotine does to a developing brain. Once they become addicted to nicotine, the chemistry in the brain changes, which can affect their mood and ability to learn. Once the damage is done, their brains cannot return to its original state.

Family Nurse Practitioner Nicole Kaufhold said vaping also negatively affects a young person’s respiratory health.

“They’re actually doing damage to the lung tissue,” Kaufhold said.

Vapers are now being hospitalized and diagnosed with EVALI, which stands for e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury. About half of the cases involve patients under the age of 25. It is not currently treatable.

“We just have to hope their lung tissue recovers,” Kaufhold said.

Vines does find it concerning that young people are being hospitalized. “Nobody should be doing any kind of stimulants, or obviously drugs, or even prescription drugs at least until your frontal lobe is developed by age 25.”

While he feels like vaping is what has helped him stop smoking, he would like to quit it as well. This is what he explains to his son, “I just explain to him that this is a choice that daddy did, and I’m still trying to get better at not doing it. But it’s still one of those things that’s hard to quit.”

When it comes to helping youth who have become addicted to nicotine, pediatricians cannot prescribe nicotine patches, gum, or inhalers to kids under the age of 18. So, they have to teach them behavioral modifications to help them kick their habit instead.

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