Consider the Consequences of Vaping: Frequently Asked Questions by Youth
Frequently Asked Questions by Youth
"Why are teens at a higher risk?"
Adolescence is a critical period for brain development, and brain development continues into young adulthood. Young people who vape with nicotine or use tobacco products are uniquely at risk for long-term, long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine. In addition to learning and cognitive deficits, and greater risk of nicotine addiction, these risks can include mood disorders and lowering of impulse controlFootnote 1 Footnote 2.
Nicotine works in the brain by interfering with the normal functioning of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger which transmits information in the nervous system. With repeated exposure to nicotine, the brain will adapt in order to continue to transmit messages. At first, exposure to nicotine can feel good. However, after repeated exposure, people can feel agitated or anxious when nicotine is not present.
This is a concern for teens because their brains are undergoing a period of change, which continues into their early 20s.
"How exactly does nicotine affect brain development?"
The brain is the last organ in the human body to develop fully. Brain development continues until about the early to mid-20s.
Vaping liquids typically contain nicotine. Nicotine disrupts the development of brain circuits that control attention and learning, and young people who vape with nicotine or use tobacco products are at increased risk for deficits in these areas.
"How much worse is smoking cigarettes than vaping?"
The harms associated with cigarette smoking are well known. Cigarette smoking causes numerous types of disease, including cancer and heart disease, and damages all parts of your body.
Vaping has risks. Research is ongoing to understand the long-term health impacts of vaping. What we know now is that vaping liquids, when heated and inhaled as an aerosol contain fewer chemicals and lower levels of these chemicals compared to cigarette smoke. In addition, studies have shown that people who have switched completely to vaping from smoking have lower levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies and see improvements in some health measuresFootnote 3.
While vaping poses fewer health risks for people who are already smoking if they quit smoking and switch completely, less harmful does not mean harmless. Non-smokers, people who are pregnant and young people should not vape.
Vaping can lead to nicotine addiction and can expose you to harmful chemicals and metals (e.g. can cause lung damage)Footnote 3.
"Why is it so important to stop vaping when the long term health effects are unknown?"
We are still learning more about how vaping affects health. The long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown. However, there is enough evidence to justify efforts to prevent the use of vaping products by youth and non-smokers and to encourage anyone who vapes to quit.
There are health risks linked to chemicals found in vaping products. Vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol are the main liquids in vaping products. These are considered safe for use in many consumer products such as cosmetics and sweeteners, which are applied to skin or ingested. However, the long-term safety of inhaling the substances in vaping products is unknown and continues to be assessed.
Chemicals used for flavour in vaping products are used by food manufacturers to add flavour to their products. While safe to eat, these ingredients have not been tested to see if they are safe to breathe in.
There is no burning during vaping but the vaping process needs the liquid to be heated. This can create new chemicals, such as formaldehydes. Some contaminants (e.g. nickel, tin, aluminum) might also get into the vaping products and then into the vapour.
Young people who vape with nicotine are also uniquely at risk for long-term, long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine. Vaping with nicotine could lead to addiction and dependence.
"How much/little vaping does it take to become 'hooked' on nicotine?"
Like smoking, the amount of vaping with nicotine needed to become 'hooked' will vary from person to person. There are several risk factors which will impact the potential for someone to develop a dependency or addiction to nicotine. These can include:
- a person's genetics (how their brain responds to nicotine)
- their environment (do their family or friends smoke cigarettes or vape)
- existing mental health issues
- whether people use other addictive substances
- their age
- the amount of nicotine a person is exposed to in the vaping device, and their vaping behaviour (e.g., how many times they vape, how deeply they inhale)
All of these factors combined can influence how much vaping will result in a dependency on nicotine. Youth are at greater risk than adults to become addicted to nicotine, because the youth brain is still developing and may be more susceptible and receptive to nicotine than the adult brainFootnote 4.
"How does vaping affect athletic performance?"
For optimal athletic performance, it is important to have optimal lung function. Those wishing to optimize their athletic performance should not breathe in any foreign substances, which includes substances inhaled via vaping. Vaping increases your exposure to chemicals that could harm your lungs. Although there have been no studies looking at athletic performance specifically, some studies have shown increased coughing, wheezing and asthma exacerbations in adolescents who use vaping productsFootnote 5.
"Is vaping still addictive if there is no nicotine?"
Nicotine is highly addictive. Even if a vaping product does not contain nicotine, there is still a risk of being exposed to other harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and acrolein. Metals have also been found in vaping devices and e-liquids. Some contaminants (nickel, tin, aluminum) might also get into the vaping products and then into the vapour. Metals found in e-liquids can be inhaled during vaping. Vaping can expose users to harmful chemicals that can have negative effects on the lungs and airways.
"What are the risks of vaping marijuana?"
Cannabis can be consumed in different ways, including by vaporizing and vaping (breathing in dried cannabis or liquid cannabis vapors through a vaporizer or vaping device). Illegal cannabis, including cannabis vaping devices that are sold on the illegal market, are not quality-controlled and may be contaminated. Cannabis use has risks, some of which remain unknown, and can have short- and long-term harms to your health, including dependence. Check out this page to get the facts on the health effects and risks of cannabis use.
"How old do you need to be to vape?"
Canada has a strong regulatory framework for vaping products, with a focus on preventing uptake by youth and non-smokers. Health Canada administers the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA), which regulates the manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of tobacco and vaping products sold in Canada. The TVPA establishes significant restrictions to prevent uptake of vaping products by youth, including; not allowing vaping products to be sold or given to anyone under 18 years of age; prohibiting advertising of vaping products in public spaces, if the ads can be seen or heard by youth, whether in stores, online or other media channels; not allowing the display of vaping products at point-of-sale where youth have access; and, not allowing the sale of vaping products that appeal to youth.
Provincial, territorial and municipal laws also regulate vaping products and their use. Certain provinces have increased the minimum age to 19 or 21. For more information about vaping and laws, check out our page Vaping product regulations.
- Footnote 1
Smith, R.F., McDonald, C.G., Bergstrom, H.C., Ehlinger, D.G. and Brielmaier, J.M., 2015. Adolescent nicotine induces persisting changes in development of neural connectivity. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 55, pp.432-443.
- Footnote 2
England, L.J., Bunnell, R.E., Pechacek, T.F., Tong, V.T. and McAfee, T.A., 2015. Nicotine and the developing human: a neglected element in the electronic cigarette debate. American journal of preventive medicine, 49(2), pp.286-293.
- Footnote 3
Public Health Consequences of E-cigarettes. A Consensus Study Report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The National Academies Press, Washington D.C.; 2018. www.nationalacademies.org/eCigHealthEffects
- Footnote 4
US Department of Health and Human Services, 2012. Preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.
- Footnote 5
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Review of the Health Effects of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems. Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes. Eaton DL, Kwan LY, Stratton K, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2018 Jan 23. PMID: 29894118.
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