Teens vaping and blowing smoke

The authors suggest that certain biomarkers may be unique to children whose fathers have been exposed to smoking in early puberty. (© aleksandr_yu - stock.adobe.com)

ATHENS, Georgia — Exercise gives you a healthier body and mind, but that may not include learning to make good decisions. A recent study from the University of Georgia reports that high school students who work out four to five days a week were surprisingly 23% more likely to use electronic vaping cigarettes than more sedentary peers.

The findings held true even for students who partook in physical activity only occasionally. Researchers say teens who worked out two to three days a week were still 11% more likely to vape.

“Our youth who tend to be on the healthy spectrum for physical health have heightened risk of using electronic vapor products. This may be because vape is perceived to be a healthier option to traditional smoking,” explains Janani Rajbhandari-Thapa, lead author of the study and an associate professor in UGA’s College of Public Health, in a statement. “Marketing campaigns have marketed vapes as a healthier option to traditional cigarettes, but data shows that additives in vape products were linked to e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury.”

If adolescents continue to vape falsely thinking it’s a better alternative to cigarettes, then it could pose potential health problems such as teenage addiction. Vapes contain a number of cancer-causing chemicals. For example, what’s commonly thought of as water vapor is a mix of nicotine and benzene, a chemical found in car exhausts. The different flavors offered in vape pens have been associated with lung disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Vape pens are not regulated so nicotine amounts can vary depending on the brand. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that most e-cigarettes have higher nicotine concentrations than traditional cigarettes.

Compared to cigarettes that have been stigmatized in recent decades, vape products are relatively new. Not much is known about them and they’re cheaper to use, don’t smell like tobacco, and are more acceptable to use in public including in no tobacco areas. “We have to make parents more aware that vaping is not OK,” Thapa explains. “If I take my public health expertise off the table, as a parent, I may be thinking, ‘Well, my child isn’t smoking. It’s OK that he’s vaping.’ But that’s not the case. We have evidence of how harmful vaping is.”

The current study involved collecting data from a 2018 survey conducted by the Georgia Department of Education. It includes responses from over 362,000 high school students from 439 schools in the state. Eleven percent of students admitted to smoking an electronic vapor product—e-cigarettes, e-pipes, vaping pens, or hookah pens—at least once in the past month. About 7% reported using electronic vapor products for at least a day in the past 30 days. Another 4% said they smoked vape products and cigarettes. Although overall, 1% of high school kids said they only smoked cigarettes.

Male students were more likely to smoke either cigarettes or vapes than their female peers. Students in higher grades also smoked more than lower grades.

One surprising finding was that students who were physically active were more likely to use e-cigarettes than students who exercised for one day or less. Though these students were less likely to use cigarettes or mix vaping products with traditional cigarettes.

“Physically active students who are meeting the guidelines for physical activity being at higher risk of vape use brings up a concern of health belief and engagement in risky behaviors,” Thapa says “I would like this finding to inform our state legislators specifically to address risky substance use behaviors by adolescents in our state. Limiting vape use by limiting marketing, not allowing vape use around schools and implementing school-level policies to discourage vape use—we want our research to inform those policies because vaping is a threat among high school students.”

The study is published in the journal Tobacco Use Insights.

About Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master's of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor's of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women's health.

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