Vaping, the new way to smoke, is becoming increasingly popular among teens. It may be hard to believe, but electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) were first introduced in 2007 and have since become a public health epidemic, contributing to youth substance abuse. The Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, VADM Jerome Adams, stated that “The recent surge in e-cigarette use among youth, which has been fueled by new types of e-cigarettes that have recently entered the market, is a cause for great concern. We must take action now to protect the health of our nation’s young people.”
So, what is it? Vaping is the action of inhaling vapor through an electronic cigarette or another modern smoking device that can be bought at convenience stores/grocery markets, gas stations, smoke shops, vending machines, or from peers. These devices contain cartridges filled with a liquid containing nicotine, flavorings, harmful chemicals, and sometimes marijuana. Tobacco and marijuana can be made into vaping oils, making them easily available to youth. In fact, vape extracts can contain 3 to 5 times more THC than the plant itself, noted by the NIDA.
In December 2019, the federal government had enacted a law that the legal age of purchase for vaping products in all U.S. states would be 21. However, the legal age was 18 before this law’s enactment, which led to a high level of youth nicotine dependence. Even though there are age restrictions to these products, not to mention recreational marijuana is illegal in the majority of states, teens can still buy products through older peers, fake IDs, or stores that do not abide by regulations.
To put into perspective the toll vaping has on youth populations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released frightening data on this topic. Disposable e-cigarette use among high school students increased from 2.4 percent in 2019 to 26.5 percent in 2020. Furthermore, 40 percent of high school students who had vape devices were using them on 20 or more days out of the month. With more and more youth turning to vapes, it is important to raise awareness of the dangers of substances.
Vaping's Negative Impact on Youth
The fact that 3.6 million young people around the world used vape devices in 2020 is deeply concerning, and naturally, there are harmful consequences. One is that smokers die an average of 10 years younger than non-smokers, and heating a substance and inhaling its fumes, in general, can cause irreversible lung damage. Also, it can increase the risk of nicotine and marijuana addictions and supply a gateway to other substances. The NIDA stated that individuals who consume THC before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.
More harmful is the brain development that is altered when drugs are used at a younger age. It is known that inhaling nicotine can negatively impact the neurologic pathways that control attention and learning in adolescents. Therefore, teens may be at an increased risk for mood disorders and permanent problems with impulse control. Even though using substances can cause harmful side effects, there are some treatments and interventions that can help. As studies on vaping continue to emerge, you can find more resources about the topic on the FDA's Campaign website, The Real Cost.
A Proven Substance Abuse Treatment for Youth
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is a proven substance abuse treatment for teens and their families. One of MST’s greatest strengths is its ability to help families with complex problem behaviors like substance abuse. MST therapists use a comprehensive treatment approach and a home-based model of service delivery to help the youth, caregivers, and systems they are embedded in assess and intervene on the unique factors influencing the youth’s substance use. Some of the common factors that put the teen at risk include school failure, boredom, favorable attitudes toward drug use, and association with drug-using peers. Ineffective parenting, discipline, and inconsistent monitoring by family and other adults are also factors. In fact, research has found that hanging out with other peers who use drugs is the best predictor of adolescent drug use. Scientists refer to this as “deviancy training,” and it is an extremely powerful negative influence on youth.
The assessment and intervention tools that make MST so effective in treating other adolescent antisocial behavior are equally well suited to effectively treat youth substance misuse. MST therapists emphasize several steps when targeting drug and alcohol problems:
- Getting caregivers and youth involved,
- assessing the sequence of drug and/or alcohol use,
- intervention strategies that focus on reaching goals and achieving outcomes,
- and quality assurance and fidelity implementation.
Overall, teens and families who are struggling with drugs, alcohol, or other uses of substances can know that they are not alone. Access to evidence-based substance abuse treatment has proven to be an effective way to address substance abuse for the youth, families, and communities.
To learn more about youth vaping, view our infographic by clicking here.
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an evidence-based alternative to incarceration or severe system consequences due to serious externalizing, anti-social, and/or criminal behaviors. MST effectively treats youth and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of services within the home, school, and community settings.
To learn more about MST and youth substance abuse, download this report.