If you would like to report the illegal selling of vaping products to children and young people under the age of 18 years' old - contact the Trading Standards Agency (UK) on 0808 223 1133, visit their website or use their online form to report the crime.
In 2003, a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik developed the very first successful e-cigarette. The motivation for creating this was to get people to stop smoking real cigarettes by providing a safe alternative to help them quit. Influenced by his father who had died from Lung Cancer, this product was fueled by the requirement to stop needless death - and so has its feet firmly in the world of good intentions.
The device Hon Lik developed consisted of a battery-powered heating element that vaporised a liquid solution containing nicotine. Often referred to as 'vape juice', it would be inhaled by the person using it and many people viewed this, at the time, as a less dangerous alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes.
However, in recent years it has been picked up by smokers and non-smokers alike with the 'vaping' sensation rolling out of control. As the long term health effect data is not available, there is much more on the line when we see how many people are using them - especially teenagers. From an adult's legal acquisition of the devices to a teenager illegally gaining access to them, vaping has become one of the world's worst trends since the 1950s cigarette craze.
- But if it is supposedly used for a particular reason, why are so many people doing it?
- If it is advertised as a better alternative, then how is it bad for you?
- What are the controversies surrounding this battery-powered vapor machine?
- And what might we see in the future?
There are many reasons why people might use the vaping tool and none of them, in my opinion, are a very good idea and all are outweighed by the negative effects that have been since researched in the field. Let us take a look at the most obvious reasons to begin with:
In order to quite smoking the traditional tobacco cigarette, many smokers and former smokers turned to vaping. This is advertised as a less harmful alternative that would apparently help to decrease their nicotine intake over time. Unfortunately, at the moment there is evidence to suggest that this horrible habit is helping young people to actually develop a nicotine addiction and therefore, is a kind of gateway towards cigarettes.
Perceived Lower Health Risks:
As in the section on 'smoking cessation', the percieved lower health risks of vaping were introduced by the fact there was a lack of combustion, which is the main cause of the harmful chemicals produced by smoking. However, black market vapes which have become popular for their strange flavour varieties and their cheap costs means that the lack of combustion may not always be there and that harmful chemicals may be involved whether or not there is a combustion of harmful chemicals.
There are also not-so-obvious reasons to vape which have potential caught on to young people and even children. These are more psychological and prove to be an increasing problem in the world of smoking. With dangerous and unauthorised equipment on the market and children being sold them illegally either in schools or in corner shops, the terrible impact this is having on young people in my opinion, has not yet been realised. We have not even hit the tip of the iceberg. Here are some of the reasons it may happen:
As we already know, teenagers and young people can be very easily influenced by multiple factors in their life - one of these factors is societal behaviours and normalities. Peer pressure is one of the leading causes for young people vaping. According to an article by Forbes (Austin, 2023), the social media application 'TikTok' has often swayed teenagers to take up vaping in an act of peer pressure combined with the requirement for popularity. In this duel attack of social acceptance, teenagers who are using this social media application often don't consciously feel the harmful impacts it has on their behaviours, instead it attacks their subconscious into believing these behaviours are normal.
More than often, young people get highly false information from the 'TikTok' application and then begin believing it as fact. From false political takes all the way to things that blatantly did not happen - it is often our job as adults to clean up the atmosphere and retrieve the young person's brain from the realm of social media unrealities. One of these falsified realities which has often been perpetuated is that because vapes are readily available they can't necessarily be that harmful. Well, alcohol and cigarettes are also readily available but...
In an article by The Guardian Newspaper, it was suggested that more than a third of young people did not think that vapes were harmful purely for this reason (May, 2023). Even though the article itself is referring to Australia, there is not much difference in opinions of young people all over the world. It has also been suggested that these talks about the negative impacts of vaping only leads to more young people taking up the trend instead of what it is meant to be doing and decreasing them. Young people more than often choose to be ignorant to the harmful effects of these things, thinking that this kind of harm is 'cool' or even 'glamorous' - something we can surely thank the Hollywood Machine for. More often than not though, the ready availability of the vapes make young people forget about the circumstances than can cause them harm as well.
We have spoken briefly about all the negative effects of the Hollywood Machine and how most of the work that comes out of it is basically societal poison. But, what is the main cultural influence of vaping on young people? The answer lies in, you guessed it, social media.
TikTok was mentioned most often as the source of online promotion (cited by 45% of children), followed by Instagram (31%) and Snapchat (22%).
In an article by The Independent, there was a study that stated the true impact of social media on the influence over young people to take up vaping. Though illegal to sell to under-18s, there were countless videos apparently of children reviewing their favoured flavours of the product. There were also targeted advertisements which only makes this problem far worse than it already is. The spike in young people vaping has definitely not only been influenced by social media but, in my opinion, has been orchestrated by it in order to rake in more views for more people and generate more pay for the application itself. It seems almost engineered.
The nature of vaping, as most people know, is to suck on a pipe attached to a battery with flavoured water inside. Many pieces of scientific research have not only suggested that this is blatantly bad for you, but that it is even worse for you if you start off younger.
First of all, there is not much known about the long-term health effects. Much like when smoking cigarettes was seen as a cure for a headache of a migraine, or even when things like cocaine were added to medications, we do not know the long-term effects and will probably find out when it's too late as we always do. Thankfully though, we have hard-working scientists and medical professionals going over it every single day to find out what it can really do to you in the future.
Some studies by scientists and medical professionals have found that vaping is most likely going to cause respiratory issues in the person who does it. These issues have symptoms including: wheezing, coughing, headaches, influenzas and even shortness of breath.
Another set of studies has suggested that due to the nature of the chemical compounds involved to create the vape, people who do so could be inhaling harmful chemicals that are held within the lungs with unknown long-term negative impacts on breathing and overall health. Therefore, all ends of cardiovascular health is at best, compromised.
Even more studies have stated that the nicotine contained with the vaping products has a much more negative impact on the brain of a young person than those who are older, stunting their brain development and increasing the risks of addiction and dependence in the future alongside other harmful effects that are based within starving the brain of oxygen.
Bronchiolitis Obliterans, also known as 'popcorn lung' is a phrase given to an illness in which the small sacks in the lungs are popped and damaged, causing blockages to build up. Vapes that contain the chemical diacetyl are known to cause this at increasing and alarming rates.
Finally, atop of cardiovascular related illnesses, vaping can even cause death. Caused by something named bilateral pneumothorax - a condition in which the lungs spontaneously collapse rendering the person, at best 'brain dead', young people are often at more of a risk of being killed by the vaping trend than those older than they are with increasing accounts being reported of death.
We have primarily been looking at how this trend is causing more harm to young people than it is to mostly anyone else. Influenced by their social circles, their social media and the societal normalisation of the act, more and more young people are taking up vaping younger and younger. This has led to reports of even primary-school-aged children both taking and selling the products in schools.
Addiction in Teenagers:
It is more than slightly illegal to sell a vaping product to someone under the age of 18 and yet, that does not stop them even remotely from getting their hands on it. Sometimes under the guise of appearing older, sometimes by having older friends to buy it for them and more than often without the knowledge of their parents, younger and younger children are gaining access to vapes and more shockingly, becoming addicted to them.
In a report by BBC Panorama, reporter Kirstie Brewer found that a 17-year-old was so addicted to vaping that she not only had numerous vapes at her home but also had taken up the addiction of smoking cigarettes at just 12 years' old, switching to vapes at 14. (Brewer, 2023) The child in question spoke about the situation and the addiction, which was alarming:
She describes it as the sort of compulsion people have with their phones - picking it up without even thinking about it, and feeling jittery when it's not within reach.
As we are taking the phone addiction seriously, we need to start taking this seriously as well in order to protect young people from the harmful impacts of psychological addiction.
One of the controversies surrounding the harm that can come from vaping is the fact that many schools have spent a lot of money installing alarms that detect vapes in their bathrooms (Bish and Moore, 2023). More often than not, students who are addicted to usage will go to the bathroom in order to use the device without the knowledge of the teacher. This has been a common problem since before the vaping trend began with students in the 90s and 2000s often using the bathroom to smoke actual cigarettes with the window open (which is probably why I refrained from using the bathroom at school - it smelled absolutely terrible in there).
The Trajectory of Illegal Vaping
Stated by one of the leading respiratory doctors in the UK, the trajectory of young people vaping suggests that in five years, it will effect almost all of the children in the country. (Hall and Skopelti, 2023). There is more than enough evidence to suggest that many children start vaping despite having never smoked before, destroying the original purpose of the device created back in 2003.
Worst of all is the knowledge about it in the children who are vaping more and more and even more often. The Children's Commissioner, Rachel De Souza stated in this article by The Guardian:
“Children have told me they want a healthy lifestyle, and they know this is important, so we urgently need to learn lessons from the past and ensure there is tighter regulation of the vaping industry as a whole – something I’ll be looking to make the case for as we carry out more work on this issue.”
Therefore, there is a whole industry problem which is perpetuating the trajectory that is, at the moment, continuously going up. Children and young people often know that vaping is bad for them and though the glamorisation suggests that it is cool and trendy and the social media addiction often fuels it - there is a knowledge in there of how bad it really is.
Women and Vaping
Young women have overtaken their male counterparts in the amount who are actively addicted to vaping. An NHS Survey showed that more than one in five 15 year old girls admitted to using vapes on a regular basis with the flavours such as bubblegum and pink lemonade directly used to target them (Gecsoyler and Goodier, 2023). The perception of this being a fashionable, trendy and often glamorous thing to do has more than not negatively impacted the view of young women towards this trend and caused them to indulge and become addicted far more than men of the same age group.
This has led to a controversy surrounding the advertising of the products as being directly targeted to be in-line with current female fashion trends and purposeful to create more damage to the social structures and health of young women especially.
Aged Nine and Under
Yes, you read that subtitle correctly. Until the June of 2023 and within that last year, there were at least 15 cases of children aged nine or under being admitted to hospital with 'vape-related illnesses'. Targetted at young people and looking either like make-up or colourful pens, it makes for a hard habit to break and in younger and younger people can cause things like collapsed or bleeding lungs (Birchley, 2023). The impact on children is more often than not, horrifying and yet, nothing is being actively done to stop it happening with more and more children getting their hands on £3 or £5 products every single day - some even selling them in their primary schools.
The Dark Market
We have all heard of the 'black market' of vaping in which illegal vapes containing horrifying chemicals (even more horrifying than normal) are sold. But have you heard of the 'dark market' in which they are sold in broad daylight, often with horrifying consequences for the young person buying them.
With one in five Scottish shops willing to sell vapes to underage young people (BBC News, 2023), more often than not stings have been done to crack down on this happening - but no more than a slap on the wrist has been given. Under 18s are more likely to go to a corner shop because of the lax identity checks and therefore, they are more likely to get whatever they want.
Another part of the dark market involves the 'super strength' illegal vapes that are being sold to under 18s as well. This includes more than twice the legal limit of nicotine and is often targeted at children who are already addicted. One the 15th of December, 2023, the BBC reported that about 2'000 of them were taken from a shop in Greater Manchester, they were being prepared for sale at the time (Jones, 2023). Take a look at one of the statements from the article that suggests the strengths of the vapes being sold in this particular shop - and then multiply that to create a nation-wide problem and then again to create an international problem:
One store was found to have a secret compartment behind shelving which opened by pulling a hidden lever. Inside were vapes six times over the legal limit.
If that really is not enough evidence for you, then I bid you to take a look at the statement from this article that suggests how young girls are buying them:
Young girls have been asked for sexual favours by shopkeepers in return for vapes.
The dark market spreads through the exploitation of children and honestly, it is pretty disgusting to think that there are people who live among us who would keep up the charade and hide this stuff for as long as physically possible until someone gets caught.
Apart from this, drug dealers often hide dangerous and even more addictive chemicals in the vapes to create a market for them. Knowing that children will buy them because of the flavours and colours, plus all of the stuff about societal normalities that we have spoken about, they come out of the other side getting rich from children suffering.
Drug dealers get young males to sell vapes locally to their friends and in schools as a test. It shows if the children are capable of selling and making money and that's when the drugs take over.
A disgusting dark market of crime that operates in broad daylight can cause children much more harm that simply puffing out chemical vapour from a live battery. It can cause death but it can also cause severe trauma related to trust and abandonment.
Recognition and Help
There are multiple ways to recognise if a child or young person might be vaping or addicted to vaping. It is much easier to recognise an addiction as opposed to recreational use. There are always signs as there are with smoking, vaping has its own which include but are not limited to:
- New on-going cough or wheezing
- Increased thirst
- Sleep disturbances
- Skin damage
- Mouth sores
- Buying batteries/chargers
- Complaints about chest pain
- New jitteriness/anxiety
Now, how can we as adults help with this?
There are several resources available online to help us with helping others, especially young people with an addiction. Vaping is an odd one because the addiction stems intially from a societal pressure. On the whole, I think the best thing to do is to keep calm. Parents who brutally punish children for doing things they aren't supposed to only create children who get better at hiding it and children who do not speak when there's a problem. Here's some methods to take as opposed to brute force:
- Talking to the child and putting yourself in their shoes.
- Getting them to tell you about their addiction and explain why they do it
- Encouraging a conversation and a narrative around it about how vaping can be a dangerous and costly problem in the future
- Help them help themselves by seeking out medical support for rehabilitation if it gets to that stage
One method I think is effective is getting them to build a list of vapes they have bought and list the prices next to them, finding out how much they have actually spent on vapes without their actual consideration may encourage them to spend their money on something they enjoy. Or, even reward them every time they put money away rather than spending them on vape products.
From passing on damaged genes to their children (Ahmed, 2023), to getting hooked on nicotine and being more likely to smoke cigarettes as they get older (W.H.O, 2023). From a 'public health catastrophe' for young people (Das and Ungoed-Thomas, 2022), to 12-year-olds in hospital with lung damage doing PSAs to stop vaping (Hughes and Watkinson, 2023) - the world is becoming a harsher place for the young as they struggle with a new, hidden chemical danger. The easiest thing for us to do is to keep pushing the law to put the lid on the whole situation.
- Ahmed, J. (2023). Boys who smoke and vape ‘risk passing on damaged genes to their children’. The Independent.
- Austin, D. (2023). Teens on TikTok Are Being Influenced to Take Up Vaping, Study Finds. Forbes.
- BBC News. (2023). One in five shops willing to sell vapes to under 18s. BBC Scotland.
- Birchley, E. (2023). E-cigarettes: Primary school age children are ending up in hospital due to excessive vaping. Sky News.
- Bish, A. Moore, B. (2023). Youth vaping: The impact of e-cigarette use in schools. BBC News.
- Brewer, K. (2023). Teenage vaping: ‘I’ll have puffs as I’m falling asleep’. BBC Panorama.
- Das, S. Ungoed-Thomas, J. (2022). Child vaping risks becoming ‘public health catastrophe’ in UK, experts warn. The Guardian
- Gecsoyler, S. Goodier, M. (2023). Number of young women vaping daily in the UK more than triples. The Guardian
- Hall, R. Skopelti, C. (2023). UK health expert raises alarm at vaping ‘epidemic’ among teenagers. The Guardian.
- Hughes, D. Watkinson, L. (2023). Never start vaping, says 12-year-old girl with lung damage. BBC News
- Jones, A. (2023). About 2,000 super-strength vapes for teens seized. BBC News.
- Kirby, J. (2023). Rise in children vaping across Britain ‘influenced by social media’. The Independent
- May, N. (2023). Young people think vapes aren't harmful because they are so easy to buy, study finds. The Guardian.
- W.H.O (2023). Urgent action needed to protect children and prevent the uptake of e-cigarettes. The World Health Organisation