Have you seen your kid’s USB flash drive lately? It could actually be an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) containing nicotine. E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. middle and high school students, and USB-shaped e-cigarettes are increasing in popularity. As parents prepare to send their kids back to school, take time to learn more about the dangers of e-cigarettes for young people.
What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are electronic devices that produce an aerosol by heating a liquid. E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes. Most have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid. Some e-cigarettes are made to look like regular cigarettes, while some look like USB drives, pens, and other everyday items. Larger e-cigarettes such as tank systems, or “mods,” do not resemble other tobacco products. E-cigarettes are known by many different names. They are sometimes called “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” “vapes,” “tank systems,” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems.” Using an e-cigarette is sometimes called “vaping” or “JUULing.”
Flavored e-cigarettes are very popular, especially among young people. More than 8 of every 10 youth aged 12-17 years who use e-cigarettes said they use flavored e-cigarettes. More than 9 of every 10 young adult e-cigarette users said they use e-cigarette flavored to taste like methanol, alcohol, candy, fruit, chocolate, or other sweets.
How do e-cigarettes work?
E-cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals that help to make the aerosol. Users inhale aerosol into their lungs. Bystanders can also breathe in this aerosol when the user exhales it into the air. E-cigarette devices can also be used to deliver marijuana and other drugs.
What is JUUL?
JUUL is a popular brand of e-cigarette that is shaped like a USB flash drive. Like other e-cigarettes, JUUL is a battery-powered device that heats a nicotine liquid to produce an aerosol that is inhaled. All JUUL e-cigarettes have a high level of nicotine. According to the manufacturer, a single JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes. Although JUUL is currently the top-selling e-cigarette in the U.S., other e-cigarettes are becoming available that look like USB flash drives. Because of their shape, school teachers might not notice students using JUUL in school, including in classrooms and bathrooms.
Why are e-cigarettes unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults?
- Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine–the addictive drug in regular cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products.
- Nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain. The brain keeps developing until about age 25.
- Using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.
- Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections – or synapses- are built between brain cells. Young women’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Nicotine changes the way these synapses are formed.
- Using nicotine in adolescence may also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs.
What are some other risks of e-cigarettes for kids, teens, and young adults?
- Scientists are still learning about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes.
- Some of the ingredients in e-cigarettes could also be harmful to the lungs in the long-term. For example, some e-cigarette flavorings may be safe to eat but not to inhale because the gut can process more substances than the lungs.
- Defective e-cigarette batteries have caused fires and explosions, some of which have resulted in serious injuries.
- Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes.
What you can do
You can start by learning about and talking to your kids about the dangers of e-cigarettes. Get CDC’s Talk With Your Teen About E-cigarettes tip sheet for parents. Educate them about the harm that nicotine can do to their developing brain. Let them know that you stand strong against them using any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, now or in the future.
Seek help and get involved.
- Set up an appointment with your child’s health care provider so that they can hear from a medical professional about the health risks of e-cigarettes.
- Speak with your child’s teacher and school administrator about enforcement of tobacco-free school grounds policies and tobacco prevention curriculum that include all tobacco products including e-cigarettes.
- Encourage your child to learn the facts and get tips for quitting tobacco products at teen.smokefree.gov