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How Vaping Impairs Cognitive Development

67% of smokers die as a result of smoking-related illnesses (Washington Post). Smoking is known to lead to 13 different kinds of cancer. Scientists and doctors have proven again and again how detrimental smoking is to overall health, and it hasn’t been ignored. From 1965, the smoking rate for adults has decreased by 12%, and from 1998, students’ smoking rates have decreased by 16.5% (CDC; graph below).

Trends in Current Cigarette Smoking Among High School Students and Adults, United States, 1965–2014However, smoking has startlingly increased in recent years.


A new, unhealthy trend is sweeping the nation’s middle and high schools: vaping. To those who aren’t aware, vaping (also known as JUULing) is the act of using a vape that converts a liquid called e-juice to vapor. A brief background: the startup of this dangerous habit occurred early 2000’s and was invented in China. When this trend came to America shortly after, more high school students began skipping the regular cigarettes and going straight for the e-cigarettes. In fact, from 2011 to 2015, there’s been a startling 900% increase in e-cigarette use by young adults. Furthermore, a recent survey (conducted by CNN) has shown that 1.7 million high school students and 500,000 middle school students have claimed to have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Ironic but tragic part of this whole situation is that the same e-cigarettes that were originally intended to help people quit smoking, are now getting young adults addicted to nicotine.

An alarming number of young adults continue to vape, despite the understanding of what smoking can do to your health being widely known. However, a high percentage of those who vape think there’s nothing more than water and flavoring in it.

“When heated by the coil, it changes to an aerosol,” states CNN.

To reiterate, there is not just water and flavoring in vapes. A heavy dose of nicotine is present, in the E-Juice. In fact, 1 JUUL pod is equal to the level of nicotine in 200 puffs of a cigarette or even a full pack. Unfortunately, companies who sell vapes used marketing strategies that target young adults- specifically their wide array of flavors, from sour gummy worms to mint to mango. Ironically, the majority of teenagers are more attracted to”healthier” vape flavors.

The effects of nicotine on the body are countless. It’s highly addictive, someone can become dependent on it after only a few tries. Teenagers, the ones who vape the most, are especially susceptible to harm from nicotine as a result of their developing brains. Studies show that the average brain doesn’t fully develop until 25 years old. So, when people wonder, if teenage brains are much different from adult brains, the answer is yes. The main difference is the part of the brain that takes the longest to develop, the frontal cortex. An adult brain has a developed frontal cortex, and is therefore more likely to make mature, logical decisions. Young adults are more apt to follow their emotions, or ignite the “pleasure and reward” part of their brain (the middle portion). The reason I bring this up is because when using nicotine, the reward is enough to make them more vulnerable to nicotine addiction. Not to mention, when using nicotine, it goes straight to your brain. MRIs have demonstrated that using nicotine leads to an “earlier maturation of rewards systems” and a “much slower development of prefrontal cognitive control.” Basically, this means that they become more impulsive- only thinking about the “reward” and not the risk. Using nicotine leads to an increased degree of dependence on it by applying neurotoxic effects in the prefrontal cortex, impairing its development. Enough nicotine use (especially among young people) can result in slower or inhibited brain development. This has lasting downsides to “cognitive ability, mental health, and even personality.” (Cold Spring Harbor Perspective in Medicine: Natalia Goriounova and Huitbert Mansvelder).

Brain development from childhood to young adult
(Psychology Today)

To conclude, this a general warning. Schools are struggling to keep up with vaping- the newest technology has gone to great lengths to allow teenagers to hide it.  According to Maine Health, vapes been designed to look like pipes, pens, flashlights, and USB drives; all common things that wouldn’t be suspicious to find in a kid’s backpack or locker. Furthermore, the smoke is either odorless or fruity smelling, with no lingering smell. There’s more- “vaping tricks” have been sweeping the internet, providing young adults with methods to hide vaping. Hopefully, this trend, like smoking cigarettes will die off soon, when more studies are released on the harmful side effects. The scariest part of the whole situation is that the long-term symptoms are unknown as of now. It’s assumed that these side effects are similar to the side effects of smoking, but because vaping is so new, it’s impossible to know for sure what consequences teenagers will suffer from.

Edited by Sheya Singireddy and Carolyn Im