Although vaping is not the internet, a social media platform, or app, it definitely plays a role in today’s teen social media culture. Given this fact, and the significant medical contraindications of vaping, especially during COVID https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/vaping-injury-youth-canada-health-1.5684342 we wanted to dedicate a chapter to parents that shed some light on the vaping culture.
As a social media safety and digital literacy company that has presented to over 490,000 teens from across Canada and the USA, we have been inundated with questions from parents, teachers, law enforcement, and even the students themselves, about teen vaping. Although there are some good articles available online, very few, if any, include any teen input. Recently, we also read a document that was being distributed to parents in Canada asking that it be forwarded to schools. The author was comparing the use and sales of vapes by teens to drug dealers, insinuating that teens are making significant profit margins on underground vape sales.
If there is one thing that we have learned as a company, if you want to know the who, what, where, why, and how of teen culture, go ask the teens themselves, and that’s exactly what we did. Given that we have thousands of teens that follow us on a variety of social media platforms, we asked for volunteers who would be willing to speak with us voluntarily and provide their take on vaping. We had hundreds of responses from students across Canada and the United States, and we conducted just over 20 hours of one-to-one online interviews. What we learned from these students about vaping was amazing, enlightening, educational, and at times a little disturbing and we think you, the parent, will as well. Knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power. There is too much disinformation about vaping when it comes to parenting on this important topic, thus the reason for this chapter.
So, What Is Vaping?
Vaping is when a person uses an electronic device to inhale and exhale a liquid that has been heated and turned into an aerosol, also called a “vapor.”
There are three primary electronic devices, known as “mods” that are used to vape:
#1: Unregulated Mechanical Mod Vapes (also known as a “mech” or “box mod”):
These rebuildable devices are usually square and about the size of a deck of cards. These box mods contain the batteries and chipset needed to control wattage to a coil that becomes heated and turns the vaping liquid, also known as “juice,” into an aerosol to be inhaled. A user can also outfit this mod unit with their own coil, tank (the container that holds the juice), and mouthpiece. For teens looking to create a big vape cloud when they exhale, an Unregulated Mechanical Mode Vape is preferred. Given how these mods are built and designed, they are very durable and not prone to breakage. According to the teens interviewed, these types of mods can average between $40.00 to $100.00 to purchase depending upon the product.
#2: Regulated Mod Vapes (also known as “Pod Mods”):
These are non-rebuildable mods that usually have a built-in power source and coil that cannot be reprogramed. These vapes are much smaller, lighter, and very concealable which makes them more prone to breakage and therefore need to be replaced more frequently when compared to a box mod. The juice that is vaporized is pre-loaded in a juice pod, which some have stated looks like a small USB stick, and is loaded into the front of the mod. Although many juice pods are one usage only (like Juul pods), others allow the owner to refill for multiple uses. According to the teens interviewed, these units cost between $30.00 to $50.00 depending on the product. These mods are also becoming more popular given that they are easily concealable when at school or at home. Several students stated to us that given the small size of some of these pod mods, students are actually using them in class. When we asked how they could do this without a teacher seeing the vapor cloud, we were told about a vaping technique called “ghosting”. Ghosting is when a person will inhale from a pod mod that they hide in their hoodie sleeve, hold it in their lungs longer than normal, which reduces the cloud effect (if any), upon exhalation. Teens stated that this technique works well with pod mods, given they do not put out as much of a vape cloud as the above-noted box mod.
#3: Dabbing Mod:
A rarer vaping device is called a “Dabbing Mod.” Dabbing is teen slang for vaping marijuana oil. Many teens called this type of mod a “dabbing pen” and stated that they will only use a dabbing pen to vape marijuana oil and not the flavored juices. So those who dab will usually have two mods, one for juices and one for dabbing. Dabbing pens are usually thin and look like a pen.
Juices are the liquids that teens will use in a mod that is then vaporized and inhaled and then exhaled. The most popular juices are usually fruit-flavored and have a sweet scent when exhaled. Many students stated that you know when someone has vaped in a school bathroom because there is a sweet smell in the air.
Juices come in two forms:
#1: Small plastic bottles with names like Banana Rama, Orange Crush, or Blue Lagoon. The liquids from these bottles, which come in many different colors, are then used to self-fill the “tank” on an unregulated mechanical mod vape (usually a clear holding space near the mouthpiece).
#2: Small USB-looking pods that are usually preloaded with a flavored juice that can only be used once (like a Juul pod) or some manufactures are making these pods refillable which is attractive to teens from a cost-saving standpoint.
Most juices, according to the teens, can cost between $10-$20 per bottle. If the student isn’t needing a full bottle of juice, they will ask a student who has a juice bottle for a “fill.” Meaning they will fill the tank on their mod for between $2.00 to $5.00. Sometimes they will get a fill for free as long as the purchaser allows them to take a hit from the vape.
Juices come in two primary types:
#1: Non-nicotine-based juice, or
#2: Nicotine-based juice also known as Nic Salts.
Most teens when they start vaping will use non-nicotine-based flavored juices. Almost all the teens stated that after they became experienced with vaping, they quickly moved to nicotine-based juices, also known as “Nic Salts” which have only been around for about 5 years now. When we asked why, teens stated because it’s a good way to get a “heady.” A heady is the lightheaded nicotine buzz that you get when you inhale a nic salt. The teens reported out that a heady will last between one to two minutes. The higher the nic salt percentage, the greater the buzz. This reminds us of when we were in middle school, some students would use something called “Rush” (isobutyl nitrate) that was sold in “head shops” as a legal way to do the same thing. Several teens shared with us that middle school students will often “nic out” or get “nic sick” in school bathrooms because they have inhaled too much from a nic salt pod or juice, which causes them to blackout or even vomit. As most adults understand, the more nicotine one ingests, the more you will need to experience a heady. What started out as a way to get a recreational buzz, now can quickly turn into nicotine addiction. Stanford University conducted research into the impact of tobacco and nicotine, and they found that some of the nic salt juices, or a one-use nic pod cartridge, could often contain more nicotine than a whole pack of cigarettes. There is no doubt that the pod mod known as “Juul” really started the nic salt (nicotine) arms race when it comes to nicotine vaping. This is especially true in the US where Juul is far more popular with teens than it is up here in Canada right now. Having said this, all juice and pod manufacturers now sell high concentration nic salts.
Given that a nic salt addiction can become very expensive, some teens reported that they turned to cigarettes to ease the need for nicotine given that it was cheaper. When it comes to vaping, the use of nic salts, especially by younger teens, is quite concerning and something that all adults need to be alive to. This is especially true when the Nic Salt delivery method, when combined with flavor juice, helps to mask nicotine’s natural unpleasant taste thus allowing manufacturers to create higher-concentration products for consumption.
HOW ARE TEENS GETTING VAPES AND JUICES?
Here in British Columbia under the “Tobacco And Vapour Products Control Act” https://bit.ly/3lXysKX you have to be 19 to purchase a vape or its juice. Given this fact, we asked the teens how they are obtaining vape equipment and its paraphernalia, and here’s what they reported back:
Many of the teens that we interviewed stated they will find someone they know who is 19 years old or older, and have them “boot” (bootleg) for them. Often, a friend will not ask for money to do this but will ask the purchaser to take a “hit” in exchange, especially if it’s a nic salt juice they are purchasing. If the teen can’t find a friend, many stated that they can find an adult near a vape store that they will get to boot for them. Usually, there will be a $10.00 boot cost added to the purchase price.
It was surprising to us how many teens stated that many stores that sell mods and juices do not ask for identification. They just walk in, buy what they want, and walk out with no questions asked. This emphasizes to me that government investigators need to police this more closely.
Another surprise to us was how many teens stated that parents will purchase vapes and juices for their teens. Many stated that parents believed that they would rather have their teen vaping than smoke cigarettes or drugs. Many teens stated that most parents were totally unaware of what they were buying, especially the nic salts, that are being abused.
Online Vendor Purchases:
Again, several students stated they will order vapes and juices online, given that most of the online industry does not use age verification of any kind. When we asked them if they were concerned that parents would learn about this because of packages being delivered to the door in their name, many stated that given that both parents worked outside the home they could intercept the package before parents knew. Many stated that given that these companies allow you to track a delivery, they knew when it would be delivered for an interception. Other teens stated that they would ship their vapes and juices to a friend’s house where parents were more accepting of vaping and would not notify other parents. Another group of students also advised that they would also ask for it to be shipped to a post office where they would later pick it up. When we asked these students what payment method they were using to purchase vapes and juices online, many stated they would use pre-loaded Visa debit cards. Many teens also advised that some of these companies would also disguise shipments so that if a parent did intercept the package before the teen, it would look like something less benign.
Two online vendor sites that were mentioned by several teens were https://vapenw.com and https://www.vaporbeast.com.
Many students stated that vapes are also being sold on their social media feeds, like Snapchat and Instagram. The vast majority aren’t being sold in bulk like a drug dealer would conduct business, which some in our field have reported, but rather as one-offs. Many will sell their old vape so that they can purchase a newer vape. When we asked if they knew students that were making lots of money from selling vapes, many just laughed and stated that given the initial cost associated with purchasing these devices, there wasn’t a lot of money to be made unless they are selling in large quantities. Some adults have stated that teens are buying vapes and juices in bulk from China, and then reselling for a profit. Again, the teens laughed and none reported that they have seen or heard of this. Could some teens be making some money from selling bulk? Yes. But based upon the conversations with the teens we spoke with, it’s a rarity.
When Are Teens First Experimenting with Vaping?
When we asked, “What grade are teens starting to experiment with vaping?” the majority interviewed stated between grades 7-9. When we asked why, all stated primarily because of peer pressure and wanting to fit in. Many also stated that they believed it was safer than cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. We had one high school teen state, “Vaping has become a social event. It’s like my dad who goes out to have a beer with his buddies.”
Many adults feel that vaping has reached epidemic levels with our teens. Well, we asked the following question to our teen followers on Instagram, “How many of you are vaping?” 714 teens voted. 639 stated “no” and “75” stated yes. This means only about 12% reported that they are vaping. Yes, this is not a scientific study, but this result was also reflective anecdotally in the interviews that we conducted with teens that stated they believed it was between 10% to 30% of their school population. This estimate is consistent with a report released in 2018 by the US Center For Disease Control https://bit.ly/2Q2P0ny In fact, during the interviews, many stated that they tried it, didn’t like it, and didn’t try it again. All the teens that we spoke with said there are just as many teen girls vaping as there are teen boys. Many stated that boys will likely use a Box Mod where girls prefer a Pod Mod.
Many of the teens we spoke with stated that most schools prohibit vaping on school property. Here in BC, it is actually illegal under the “Tobacco And Vapour Products Control Act” to be used on school property. When we asked if schools were taking action, most stated yes. Of interest, however, many teens stated that although principals would take action, some teachers would look the other way, or just say, “put that thing away” without reporting it to the principal. Several students also stated they were aware of cases at their school where parents were contacted and some students were even suspended when caught vaping on school property. One way to avoid being caught was to vape in bathrooms behind closed doors where teachers don’t supervise, or just off school property where a school or principal has no authority to act. Something they called a “vape pit.”
Some Final Thoughts:
As we stated at the start of this chapter, knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power. We are hoping that the information in this chapter will help the reader to better understand the teen vaping culture in greater detail.
Based upon our survey and the 20+ hours of one-on-one interviews with teens, anecdotally, vaping, although a significant health concern especially when it comes to nic salt juices and pods, we believe has reached problematic, but not “epidemic,” levels yet. We need to remain very vigilant about its use, especially when it comes to our younger teens. I truly believe that the vape industry, which is now being bought up and taken over by the tobacco industry, is treating this generation of teens as guinea pigs. This is something that the tobacco industry first did when cigarettes became popular. Remember, we were once told that cigarettes were safe and good for our health.
When we asked the teens about what parents and teachers could do when talking to teens about their concerns about vaping, they all stated that these adults needed to be better educated on this topic and to share factual information rather than just opinion or supposition via scare tactics. To help parents and educators understand some of the medical concerns, here are two of the best resources we have found:
It was refreshing to hear many of the older teens who are long-time vapers share with us that they wished that they had never started vaping, especially when it came to nic salts. Most, not all, stated that we adults need to spend more time educating teens about vaping before they hit grade 7. Words from the wise, in our opinion. One grade 12 student stated to us:
“Every generation has something like this and frankly, some teens are never going to be smart enough to stay away from these things.”
Being reflective of when we were in middle school and high school, this teen is correct. However, there are things we adults can do to help mitigate the risk to the majority of teens who are now faced with this current generational challenge. How? Education, education, education. Education that is truthful, respectful, evidence-based, and teen-inclusive in nature.
As Dr. Tyler Black has stated:
“Vaping is better than smoking but worse than not vaping. Unfortunately, vaping is marketed at kids/youth who were already declining smoking/nonsmokers, meaning for that group, harm addition. A large percentage of youth who vape have never smoked. Again, harm addition.”
Here’s a great Youtube interview we did with Clayton Cranford, an expert on the topic of vaping