Teenagers across the United States have been using e-cigarettes at an alarming rate, according to recent studies. One young man from Maine, Jake Warn, started vaping at age 16 and became addicted, using an entire cartridge of vape liquid in one school day. By the time he reached college, he had increased his use even more. Warn’s mother said he was coughing constantly, experiencing nosebleeds, and getting less sleep and less nutrition. The habit is likely to carry into adulthood for many who start in their teenage years, experts say.
Vaping rates among teenagers in Maine doubled from 15.3% to 28.7% between 2017 and 2019. In 2021, 11% of high schoolers across the nation said they regularly smoked e-cigarettes, and an estimated 28% have at least tried the devices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Electronic nicotine delivery systems, such as vapes, have been touted by their makers and some in the medical field as a healthier alternative to cigarettes and as a way to help smokers give up the habit. However, studies suggest that vaping may worsen bronchitis and asthma, raise blood pressure, interfere with brain development in young users, suppress the immune system, and increase the risk of getting a chronic lung disease.
Many adolescents and young adults who use e-cigarettes say that vaping helps ease anxiety and keep them attentive, which also adds to the complexity of their dependency. However, the immediate risks of nicotine on the developing brain are well-documented, and nicotine may impact adolescents’ ability to learn, remember, and maintain attention.
Warn eventually took a semester off from college and moved home, where he eventually transferred to a different college and lived at home, where no one vaped and where he wasn’t allowed to smoke in the house. Not fully understanding the long-term health implications of e-cigarette use has stopped many health care providers from offering clear messaging on the risk of vaping to current and potential users. Once pediatricians do identify a nicotine dependency, it can be difficult to treat.
Warn said he’s lessened his use of e-cigarettes, compared to his college days, but still struggles to kick the habit for good. His mother said quitting may not be that simple. “This will be a lifelong journey,” she said. “When I think of who he is, addiction is something he will always have. It’s a part of him now.”