Story by Rosanna Castro
FIU psychologists Elisa Trucco and Matthew Sutherland are educating students, school personnel and parents about the potential harms associated with vaping nicotine and THC, the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis.
In efforts to reduce teen e-cigarette use, Trucco and Sutherland have partnered with more than 14 schools and reached out to more than 2,000 members in the South Florida community to provide educational sessions on vaping. They currently run a research project called the Antecedents and Consequences of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ACE) Project, funded by the National Institutes of Health. It is part of a collaborative study between FIU’s Center for Children and Families and FIU’s Research Center in Minority Institutionsto better understand what influences a teen’s decision to use or not use e-cigarettes, and how this decision could impact the developing brain. The project is one of the first studies to examine decision-making as it relates to vaping devices.
“One concern is that teens may not fully understand that vaping can negatively impact health and how the brain works,” Sutherland said. “E-cigarettes were initially marketed as a less harmful alternative to tobacco smoking for adult cigarette smokers, but we’re only just beginning to understand the detrimental health consequences they can have.”
The potential harmful effects of vaping have been generating headlines in recent weeks as an increasing number of teen vape users have been hospitalized with a mysterious lung illness. Some have died.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently launched an investigation into more than 450 reported cases of a severe lung disease affecting vape users, including teens, across 33 states. This is especially concerning given the staggering increase in e-cigarette use, including Juul, among middle school and high school students.
Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of nicotine because their brains are still rapidly developing, according to Trucco and Sutherland. Research is critical to help clinicians improve prevention programming and assist policymakers in deciding how to continue regulating these products, they said.
“Now, more than ever, teens and parents need to be informed about the possible health effects of vaping, its potential impact on the developing brain and the risk for addiction,” Trucco said. “We urge parents to have an open conversation with their teen, regardless of whether they’re vaping or not. If parents suspect their teen may be vaping, they should seek ways to help them quit.”