A healthy alternative to cigarettes or cotton candy ice nightmare? Vaping and young people

Image credit: Vaping 360 via Flickr under cc-by-2.0 license.

Image credit: Vaping 360 via Flickr under cc-by-2.0 license.

You’ve seen them in the shops, right? Cotton Candy Ice, Blueberry Razz Lemonade and Kiwi Passionfruit Guava? No, they’re not the latest ingredients to a bizarrely overpriced Heston Blumenthal dessert, they are part of the exotic boom of vape pen flavours being sold in shops and, most alarmingly, being puffed on by teens.

Most of the debates surrounding vapes over the past ten years have centred on the health benefits it has for cigarette smokers making the switch.

This includes Public Health England who reported in 2018 that vaping is ‘at least 95% safer than smoking’.

However, with more and more young people smoking vapes due to the child-like, flavourful marketing of vape pens, is the constant stench of cherry vanilla vape more dangerous than we think?

To begin pondering these questions, it’s important to firstly know what’s inside of a vape.

What is Vaping?

Vapes come in all different shapes and sizes. Some, which are slightly larger usually, have refillable tanks. Some can resemble a cigarette shape or look like an everyday pen or USB stick. But all vapes or e-cigarettes, more or less, fulfil the same function. They are battery-operated devices that heats an element, usually containing nicotine, into an aerosol which is then inhaled.

Once the nicotine enters your body, it stimulates the central nervous system, increasing blood pressure, breathing and your heart rate, and like all other addictive substances it increases dopamine levels in areas of the brain which are associated with reinforcing behaviours.
Over time, use of nicotine can lead to addiction, which is the compulsive use of a substance despite the negative consequences of it.

What are the health risks for young people vaping?

woman with red lipstick and red lipstick

Photo by Chiara Summer on Unsplash

Photo by Chiara Summer on Unsplash

As an alternative for consistent cigarette smokers, there is strong evidence to suggest vaping exposes the body to fewer toxicants.

In 2020, e-cigarettes were the most popular aid used by smokers trying to quit in England.

In October the following year, Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid even hinted at the possibility of England being the first country in the world to prescribe medically licensed e-cigarettes to help reduce smoking rates.

However, nicotine in any form is still a highly addictive drug and exposing a young developing brain to it can cause health risks.

If we take, for example, the hugely popular Elf Bar vape pen – in terms of nicotine content it is equivalent to 48 cigarettes.

Nemours Children’s Health found that nicotine use can slow brain development in kids and teens, affecting memory, concentration and learning.

A U.S. Surgeon General’s report in 2016 claimed e-cigarettes pose ‘a significant and avoidable health risk to young people’.

Medical reports have found long-term vape use can cause gum disease due to nicotine drying out your mouth.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) also said they have significant data to suggest vaping nicotine encourages cigarette smoking amongst adolescents, the number one most preventable cause of death.

Dr. Einstein, the Chief of Science policy at the NIH, claimed there are numerous question marks around whether it is safe to inhale flavouring additives as opposed to ingesting them.

She even suggested: “Nicotine specifically has been demonstrated to prime the rewarding effects of other drugs. A brain exposed to nicotine might subsequently find something like cocaine more rewarding than if the person hadn’t previously been exposed to nicotine.”

She speaks here below.

man in blue sweater and blue denim jeans sitting on blue couch

Photo by Chiara Summer on Unsplash

Photo by Chiara Summer on Unsplash

man in black long sleeve shirt holding black dslr camera

Photo by E-Liquids UK on Unsplash

Photo by E-Liquids UK on Unsplash

A survey from 2013-2021 by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) did find that the percentage of 11–17-year-olds who had tried vaping dropped from 13.9% in 2020 to 11.2% in 2021.

Additionally, in 2021 the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reported there has been ‘little change’ in vaping levels over the last few years.

Since May 2016 there have also only been 3 reported fatalities in the UK linked with vaping.

Yet, many of these ‘updated’ reports do not consider a post-lockdown Britain and how truly popular vapes have become.

IndieJuice, an online vape platform, reported there was a 279% increase in disposable vape sales in the last quarter of 2021.

ASH’s survey, which found 7.1% of adults use e-cigarettes, reported 41.9% of 11–17-year-olds purchased their e-cigarettes from shops in the UK even though the legal age to buy a vape is 18.

Hashtag ElfBar is also a TikTok sensation amassing 727 million views.

Alongside being easy to purchase from most corner shops and requiring no vape fluid or battery, the brightly coloured sleek marketing of vape pens has become fashionable for young people to buy and use.

Speaking to Deputy Gomez, a school resource officer in Idaho, he said: “In recent years, vaping devices are become an increasing problem in the school I work at and every other school that I am in contact with. 

“Vapes are becoming a daily battle as kids are becoming addicted to the social and nicotine aspects of vaping.

“Vape manufacturers are saying they are not targeting kids with their vape products while at the same time they are making flavours that entice kids such as cotton candy and mango cream and many other kid friendly flavours.

“Another aspect of targeting kids is making the vapes so they have no visible smoke and very little odour which allows kids to vape during school in their classes.”

When I first reached out to Gomez, he was in the process of writing $74 tickets for two ten-year-old children and a nine-year-old who were caught vaping at school.

Parenting expert and consultant Kirsty Ketley, who is a mum herself to two children, added: “Vaping appears to be hugely popular in teens and young adults. With cigarettes much harder to buy and the campaigning around the dangers of them, I feel that young adults and teens choose to vape instead.

“Peer pressure and the ease at being able to buy them, plus the flavours, make it quite appealing.”

man in black and white plaid dress shirt sitting at the table

Photo by E-Liquids UK on Unsplash

Photo by E-Liquids UK on Unsplash

boy wearing red jacket

Photo by Psk Slayer on Unsplash

Photo by Psk Slayer on Unsplash

What next?

The vaping industry, only a decade old, is a sector that’s growing year upon year and is forecast to be a £4billion plus industry in the UK by 2021.

It’s not going anywhere.

It is also important to consider how vapes aren’t necessarily branding themselves as being healthy.

Speaking to Marcel Bzdok, who has worked in the Vape Shack in Twickenham for nine years (pictured to your right), he said: “It’s a personal opinion – the whole thing of people saying vaping might be harmful to you is silly, really, because everyone knows that vaping is harmful, it’s common sense. It’s not like eating fruits.

“People who come to me who have switched from smoking, they still run into the same problems of addiction when they are trying to quit vaping."

As Marcel puts it, it is rather “silly” to ask whether or not vapes are healthy for young children, we know they are not.

Rather, the question to ask here is what will be the impact of the slick, stylish marketing and child-like flavours of vape pens, such as Elf Bars, which are hugely popular and easy to get a hold of.

Will writing tickets in primary schools, as Deputy Gomez is doing, be a regular occurrence?

Will teenage angst now be doubled if pupils are getting nicotine withdrawals after having vapes confiscated?

What is certain is that colourful, cotton candy vapes are certainly becoming a part of children’s lives today and only time will tell what sort of an impact they will have in the future.

Vaping is not a crime! Says Marcel.

Vaping is not a crime! Says Marcel.

The Vape Shack in Twickenham.

The Vape Shack in Twickenham.