Youths at Higher Risk of Nicotine Addiction

Evidence has shown that most of the e-cigarettes contain nicotine, even those marketed as containing 0% nicotine have been found to contain nicotine. Currently, we know that nicotine is highly addictive. For young people or adolescents, nicotine can harm their brain development. Adolescents’ brain still continues to develop until the second decade of life (i.e. until about 25 years old). Therefore, when young people or adolescents vape, i.e. use nicotine, it can harm parts of their brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.

Risky behaviour: Posing pictures of secondary students vaping.
Image by Raja Faisal Hisnan – The Star.

Furthermore, using nicotine in adolescence may also increase the risk for future addiction to other drugs. In other words, using nicotine in adolescence can rewire their brain to become more easily addicted to other drugs.

Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances. Some of the ingredients in e-cigarette aerosol could also be harmful to the lungs in the long term. Many e-cigarettes come in kid-friendly flavours – including mango, fruit, and crème – which make e-cigarettes more appealing to young people. For example, some e-cigarette flavourings 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 some fires and explosions, a few of which have resulted in serious injuries. There have been reports where children (and adults too) have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes.

The use of smoking products like e-cigarettes and vapes, especially among youths and school students, is worrying.
Image by Freepik.

Here are some useful tips for parents or adults:

  • Parents and adults should set a good example by being tobacco-free and ensure their children not to be exposed to the second-hand emissions from any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
  • Parents should talk to their teenage children about why e-cigarettes are harmful. If their children are vaping, seek medical help. Set an appointment with the health care provider. Find out from the school teacher or administrator about enforcement of tobacco-free school grounds policies and tobacco prevention curriculum.
  • Parents should also learn about the different shapes and types of e-cigarettes and the risks of e-cigarette use for young people at or other reliable source such as Ministry of Health Malaysia.
  • Parents should be aware of some signs of nicotine addiction, which include: (1) Cravings, or feeling like their children really need to use e-cigarette. (2) Going out of his/her way to get e-cigarette. (3) Feeling anxious or irritable if want to use e-cigarette but can’t. (4) Continuing to use e-cigarette because find it hard to stop.
  • And parents should also be aware of symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. When your child is addicted to nicotine, he/she may experience symptoms of nicotine withdrawal after stopping using e-cigarette. (1) Craving e-cigarettes, (2) feeling sad or irritable, or (3) having trouble sleeping are some common symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms are usually strongest in the first week after quitting, but they are only temporary.

If we are serious about creating our smoke-free generation, vaping should be de-normalised too. Because we know that younger people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future. This will interfere with our country’s target to achieve Tobacco End-Game by 2040!

This article was written by Associate Professor Dr Farizah Mohd Hairi, Public Health Physician, Health Policy and Management Discipline, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.

Read more on The Star Online, Sunday, 13th February 2022, Education section: Youths at higher risk of nicotine addiction.

Another related article, Use of ecigs among students worrying.

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