Ep 190: Teen Vaping

Jamie Ducharme, author of Big Vape, demystifies the vaping industry and explains how teens have been lured into vape addictions. Plus, she shares some tips for relaying  to teens the truth about e-cigarettes and vapes.

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Full show notes

When most of us first heard about vaping, we were told it was a way for smokers to put down a cigarette and try something a little healthier. We probably didn’t think it was particularly dangerous…or something our teens were likely ever to become addicted to! But in the past few years, e-cigarettes have become massively popular among young adults. These affordable, fruit-flavored, colorful devices are not only easy for teens to obtain, but also easy to hide–they often look just like flash drives!

For parents who know the dangers of cigarettes, it can be confusing and concerning to watch these devices develop a massive young fan base. With little science to help us understand their ingredients or effects, it can be hard to know if they are even remotely safe for kids to use. As far as we know, beyond their extremely addicting qualities, they could have life-threatening side effects!

Today, we’re separating fact from fiction to discover the truth about vaping. Joining us is journalist Jamie Ducharme, author of Big Vape: The Incendiary Rise of Juul. Jamie covers health, science and medicine for Time magazine. She’s been writing about the rise of vapes since 2018, when the invention of the popular Juul device brought vaping to the forefront of widespread public fascination. Her research can give us some insight into the mysteries of these electronic cigarettes, and help us finally figure out what effects they’re really having on our kids.

In our interview, Jamie is explaining the potential dangers vapes pose to developing teens. Plus, we discuss the powerful marketing and deliberate spread of misinformation surrounding these devices, and how we can encourage teens to make educated choices before they pick a vape themselves.

Is Vaping Dangerous?

We know that cigarettes can cause cancer, emphysema and more…but do vapes do the same? Jamie explains that the parts of cigarettes that cause cancer are largely tied to the combustion process–in other words, lighting stuff on fire and inhaling the smoke! Vapes don’t need fire to operate, as they use electricity to heat up a nicotine fluid that can then be inhaled. This means they might not be as cancerous as cigarettes–but according to Jamie, the jury is still out on how dangerous vaping really is.

Part of the problem is a serious lack of information and regulation. Jamie explains that the FDA has yet to deliver a regulatory process for big vape brands like Juul–meaning that these products are flying off the shelves without being properly evaluated. E-cigarette companies have done remarkably little research on the effects of their products, says Jamie, simply testing them on employees on occasion instead of running consistent, sophisticated trials.

Some research suggests that vapes cause brain and lung damage, but we could definitely do with some more information on their effects, says Jamie. No matter what’s in them, they’re still designed to deliver nicotine, one of the world’s most addictive substances…and that alone is pretty concerning, Jamie believes. On a spectrum from inhaling clean air to inhaling the smoke from a cigarette, vaping falls somewhere in the middle, she says. The safest thing for kids to do in her opinion? Avoid nicotine products all together.

But it’s not always easy to keep kids from using E-cigarettes, especially because they’re designed and marketed to appeal to young adults! Jamie and I talk in our interview about how vape manufacturers are trying to get kids hooked on their products.

Marketing and Misinformation

Vapes were originally created to help smokers curb their cigarette addictions, but manufacturers found an unexpectedly massive market among teenagers who’ve never smoked cigarettes at all. When they discovered that this demographic could put money in their pockets, they began using young, millennial models to advertise their products, to make them seem cool and trendy, Jamie explains.

 In the process, they totally neglected to mention that these devices existed to dispense nicotine, says Jamie. In fact, many young people believed they were just inhaling flavored water vapor! Nowadays, these products are required to reveal their nicotine content right on the box, on a sizable warning label. The few regulations the government has set up for proper labeling and education has had some effect, with rates of use dropping from 27% of high school students to 10% within a few years of requiring labels.

Although big vape companies require people to verify their age online or in stores before ordering the products, teens have said that there are plenty of ways around this obstacle. Some people buy the products in bulk and resell them to underage kids, and some teens even scam the Juul customer service department by using a serial number to claim a broken product and demand a replacement! However kids are doing it, they’re able to get these products pretty easily for an affordable price, says Jamie.

So…does this mean your teen is vaping? Jamie explains how we can strike up a conversation with teens to find out if they’re using e-cigarettes or to prevent them from ever starting.

How Can I Talk to My Teen About Vaping?

Unfortunately, it can be hard to spot any physical symptoms of regular vape use in teens, says Jamie. Unlike cigarettes, they don’t produce ash or a strong smell. Many times, parents begin to detect that teens become more distant or withdrawn, have mood swings and anxiety or seem to lose interest in things they care about, and that’s how they discover their teen has been vaping, explains Jamie. If your teen seems to be a little off, Jamie recommends opening up a conversation to find out if they might be using these products.

Whether or not a teen is actively vaping, Jamie encourages parents to strike up a conversation about e-cigarettes. She explains that teens today are often very conscious of mental, physical and environmental health, three things that vaping could potentially endanger! In her work, she’s found that teens tend to stay away from these devices when they become more educated and aware of what they really do. 

She also recommends pointing out the way companies are marketing vapes directly to teens, as they typically don’t like being manipulated! When kids realize that these billion dollar corporations are attempting to take advantage of them, they start to realize they’re better off prioritizing their health over looking cool or keeping up with trends. In the episode, Jamie and I extend our conversation into discussing marijuana vapor products, and why these haven’t quite caught on the way that nicotine vapes have.

In the Episode.,..

Talking with Jamie was incredibly informative and thought provoking! Her wealth of knowledge surrounding e-cigarettes and the vaping industry is remarkably valuable to any parent looking for answers about how these devices are affecting teens. On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:
  • How vaping was created to be enjoyable
  • Why schools struggle to regulate vapes
  • What teens are saying about cigarettes versus vaping
  • How vaping expanded into a billion dollar business
Thanks for listening! If you enjoyed this week’s episode, you can find more from Jamie at jamieducharme.com, or @jamie_ducharme on Twitter! You can also tune into Time.com or Time magazine to stay updated with Jamie’s coverage of the vaping phenomenon and its effect on teens. Don’t forget to share and subscribe, and we’ll see you next week.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Jamie Ducharme
Jamie Ducharme
Health correspondent @TIME. Author of Big Vape from @henryholt. Email: [email protected]
Ep 190: Teen Vaping
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