Vaping soared nearly 80 percent among high school kids and 50 percent among middle schoolers since last year, prompting the US Food and Drug Administration to call e-cigarette use among teens an “epidemic” and proposing new measures to crack down on the 5 vape-makers that represent 97 percent of retail sales. Those manufacturers have argued that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional tobacco products, but the federal Centers for Disease control notes that most e-cigarettes contain concentrated levels of highly addictive nicotine, which can harm the developing brain. The adolescent brain is not fully developed until the age of 25 and exposing it to nicotine – especially high levels of nicotine – can negatively affect the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. Several studies have linked teen cigarette use with the use of alcohol and other drugs, and though not yet well studied, some researchers are suggesting that e-cigarettes may have the same physiological effects on the brain and may pose the same risk of addiction to other drugs, especially during a critical period of brain development. Beyond nicotine, the CDC reports that nearly 1 in 11 US middle and high school students used cannabis in an e-cigarette in 2016. That equates to more than 2 million youth who have  used cannabis in an e-cigarette, including nearly 1 in 3 high school (1.7 million) students and nearly 1 in 4 middle school students. This trend has accelerated in recent years, especially given current debates about the legalization of marijuana. While government figures out how best to educate and protect young adults, parents should keep an eye out for tell tale signs of vaping: possession of vaping devices that look like USB devices, battery chargers or small parts; mood swings; nosebleeds; increased thirst and; respiratory infections. It’s important to talk with the kids in your life about the potential risks associated with vaping, give them strategies for opting out if approached and keep the conversation open as this new health threat persists and grows.

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