Vaping or e-cigarette use has been linked to the emergence of a severe lung disease that has affected more than 800 people across the United States, with 12 reported deaths. The largest users of vapes or e-cigarettes are among teens and young adults. A new study points out that schools play a major role in the sudden surge of e-cigarette use among teens.
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A team of researchers at the University of Colorado, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ottawa Hospital Research Institute wanted to determine the role of schools for adolescent health outcomes, particularly, e-cigarette use.
In the United States, e-cigarettes first hit the market in 2007, which was promoted among adults as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. However, with the lax regulations of e-cigarette use had teens using the device, and becoming addicted to nicotine, which is one of the components of vapes.
Between 2017 and 2018, the number of high school students using e-cigarettes nearly doubled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the use of vapes or e-cigarette products among teens and young adults is unsafe because these contain nicotine and other potentially harmful ingredients. Nicotine is highly addictive and can cause problems in the brain development of adolescents.
The new study, which was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescents, revealed that schools are critical contexts that shape youth health-related behaviors. The team studied information from 65,000 middle and high school students, to determine how social, cultural and environmental factors affect e-cigarette use.
"Youth attending schools with high rates of vaping are more likely to believe that e-cigarettes are harm-free and less addictive than traditional cigarettes, regardless of if they smoke or not. Students teach one another about 'vaping tricks,' how to use the devices properly and why it shouldn't be considered taboo. The misconception among teens that e-cigarettes are safe is cause for alarm," aid Adam Lippert, PhD, study co-author and assistant professor in the department of sociology at the University of Colorado Denver.
Vape access in schools
When e-cigarettes have been introduced in the U.S., schools have played major roles in the use of these products by teens. When time passed by, e-cigarettes became popular and a normal activity among teens, and in many schools, vape-use has been normalized in many schools.
However, after a few years, the rate of e-cigarette use stayed the same, but it soared in 2015 when new vaping technologies emerged. The vapes came in a variety of flavors that attracted teens.
Another reason why teens indulged in vaping over the past years was because of peer pressure. In schools, they were exposed to other teens using vape varieties, like those shaped like a flash drive, or those with flavors, like the Juul device.
“These findings highlight how the health implications of multiply-embedded ecological systems like schools shift over time with concomitant changes in other ecological features including those related to policy, culture, and broader health practices within society,” the researchers concluded in the study.
Schools should impose preventive measures
Since schools served as a battleground to teen vaping, they should be the first ones to impose preventive measures, considering the surge of lung disease related to e-cigarette use. If schools impose strict policies on vaping, students will not use these devices. Schools regulate access to these devices, so if they discourage the use of nicotine products, the students will not use them.
"If authority figures are unable to control teens' behavior or educate youth on vaping and nicotine addiction risks, the chances are even higher than a student will start using e-cigarettes," Lippert said.
Schools should impose preventive measures, such as stricter regulations on the usage and sales of e-cigarettes in the campus and near school property.
Lastly, educational campaigns are a great help to influence teens to refrain from using vapes. School officials can start by showing the effects of nicotine addiction and e-cigarette-related health risks.
Lippert, A., Corsi, D., and Venechuck,G. (2019). Schools Influence Adolescent E-Cigarette use, but when? Examining the Interdependent Association between School Context and Teen Vaping over time. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10964-019-01106-y