Updated: Jun 28, 2020
By JJ Kim
Note: All quotes included in this article are from interviews conducted with anonymous high school students.
“There are simply no accurate studies done on e-cigarettes to prove their harm.”
There are millions of teens around the world in high school who vape. For example, around 3.6 million U.S. teens — one in five high school students and one in twenty middle school students — have vaped in the past month alone.
However, more than half of the teens in the world who vape aren’t aware of the malignant effects of e-cigarettes. Assured, there haven’t been that many studies conducted on e-cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes, but that should in no way paint vaping as a benign practice; rather, chemicals in e-cigarettes can produce grave consequences for the average vaper.
One of the most disastrous effects that e-cigarettes effect is addiction.
“After two hits, I started to feel kind of dizzy, but relaxed at the same time. I vaped once more, and then I felt myself completely losing it — I was buzzed.”
Most teens have little knowledge of how vaping influences the body and causes addiction so rapidly. Consequently, they tend to prioritize the short term relaxation instead of the long term repercussions. So, it is imperative to ask — what makes vaping so addictive, and how does it affect the body?
The biggest cause of vaping addiction comes from nicotine, which is stored in small, concentrated amounts in e-cigarettes. Nicotine affects the brain’s neural pathways. Neurons are brain cells that relay electrical signals for information processing and generation. For a neuron to relay a signal to another neuron, it must use chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. These include acetylcholine (in charge of muscle movement and neuron communication) and dopamine (responsible for mood changes and pleasure).
Nicotine is an agonist, or a synthetic compound that mimics the effects of certain neurotransmitters. It imitates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter normally produced in small amounts. Nicotine disrupts this balance by mimicking acetylcholine in heavy doses, producing other chemicals within the body. One is dopamine, which accounts for the relaxed state that people achieve through vaping and smoking.
However, since nicotine produces more dopamine and acetylcholine than required, the brain starts to depend less on the body’s natural opiates and stimulants. This is what ultimately causes addiction; users reach out for nicotine to compensate for the lessened production of natural opiates.
The side effects of nicotine must also be noted. Nicotine increases blood clotting tendency, creates plaques on artery walls, and enlarges the aorta, all weakening blood flow. It can also cause irregular sleep patterns, peptic ulcers, pneumonia, and diabetes.
Knowing that vaping itself hasn’t really been studied in depth, most adolescents believe that vaping is justified. That’s why, as the vaping addiction crisis spreads across both the United States and the rest of the world, teenagers must be made aware about the chemicals in vapes that can have severe, life-changing consequences.