Nancy Campbell-Heider, Ph.D., is on a mission. She wants all health care professionals to start talking with teens about vaping. 

Teens who use e-cigs are 27 times more likely to use marijuana.

“Teens are ignorant of the risk of using e-cigarettes, so it has become their new drug of choice,” said Campbell-Heider, a high-risk adolescent behavior expert at the University of Buffalo in New York.

“You are inhaling nicotine, which is highly addictive and a gateway to other drugs and combustible cigarette use. This is not a safe alternative to smoking.”

The push from Campbell-Heider to educate her colleagues comes as new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that as many as three million middle school and high school students are now vaping — up from 2.5 million in 2014.

Another new report finds that the more teens are exposed to advertising for electronic cigarettess, the more likely they are to use them. And they are being heavily targeted right now by e-cig manufacturers. Calls into poison control centers about young children’s exposure to e-cigarettes are also skyrocketing. The biggest threat is the nicotine liquid inside the devices.

Just last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors because of numerous health concerns in this vulnerable age group.

Campbell-Heider wants to share the facts with others. She and Diane Snow, Ph.D., a retired clinical professor of nursing at University of Texas at Arlington, recently published their own review, “Teen Use of Electronic Cigarettes,” in the Journal of Addictions Nursing. The team is speaking with an increasing number of nurse practitioners across the country.  

Motivating her perhaps even more: Her own 17-year-old grandson was recently caught with vaping equipment in school.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Symptoms of Nicotine Overdose” source=””]Extreme anxiety|Depression|Excessive sweating|Insomnia|Panic attacks|Heart palpitations|Dizziness|Tingling in back of head[/lz_bulleted_list]

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“My grandson was using e-cigarettes for a couple of years before his parents discovered it. He could vape in his bedroom and not get caught, as the moment you shut off the device the odor is gone,” said Campbell-Heider.

Avoiding many other risky behaviors, her grandson told her he took up vaping because he believed it was harmless — his friends and the Internet told him so.

“I pulled several articles for him to read and we had a very open talk. I answered all his assertions that it was harmless and explained the risk of going on to other drugs and combustible cigarettes, for which there is evidence in the literature. I asked him to quit the habit and have asked him repeatedly over the last few months if he was still using — he says no. I believe he would tell me the truth, as we have that kind of relationship, but who knows? I am hopeful that I did introduce enough doubt about safety to help him quit,” she said.

The new FDA regulations will better control the products’ availability to teens, said Campbell-Heider. But as long as clinicians and parents continue to believe the products are safe, adolescents will remain at risk.

“The regulations ban sales to minors, assume regulatory authority over e-cigs, and will require warning labels and childproof packages. They will control the small independent manufacturers who sell the liquid nicotine for refillable vaporizers. I believe all of these measures will discourage teens from trying to buy these products,” said Campbell-Heider. “One question I have, though, is whether or not teens could still buy over the Internet with fake IDs and gift cards, which is what I understand kids are doing.”  

E-cigs contain harmful diluents and nicotine, a substance more addictive than heroin, she says.

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She adds that other recent studies show that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to use cigarettes or hookah, are more at risk for breathing problems — and are 27 times more likely to smoke marijuana.

When these kids come in for a check-up, she said, that is the best time for health care providers to have the conversation. They already ask teens about drinking habits, safe sex practice, or cigarette use. Vaping, she says, needs to be mentioned.

“The general population knows smoking is dangerous,” said Campbell-Heider. “The general population does not know that vaping is dangerous.”