Showing signs of vaping

 2023 | Practice
Gillian Nicol
Student Member: Tyne & Wear
With vaping amongst children and young people on the rise, Acu. editorial team member Gillian Nicol asked Rebecca Avern a few questions about what she’s been noticing lately in her paediatric work.

There’s been a significant rise in use of vapes amongst 11-17 years olds as disposable vapes have become available in recent years. The bright coloured packaging and sweet flavours have obvious appeal to children, despite it being illegal to sell e-cigarettes to those under 18.

The long-term health impacts of these products are unknown and UK paediatricians have called for an outright ban on disposable vapes to protect children. Many of the disposable vapes obtained by children are illegal products which haven’t been tested for safety and have been found to contain lead, nickel and chromium.

Seeing this widespread use of vapes amongst young people is highly concerning – but is it showing up in young acupuncture patients? I asked paediatric acupuncturist and BAcC Fellow Rebecca Avern about the signs and symptoms.

Are you seeing an increase in the use of vapes in teenagers?

Yes I am.

How is this showing up – for example in tongues, pulses, other symptoms?

Dry tongues, dry tongue coatings, and more redness on the tongue, tense liver pulses. I also feel it’s causing more agitation.

How is it manifesting from a Chinese medicine point of view?

Blood xu and yin xu. Agitating the shen. Causing stagnation in the liver.

And how are you treating?

I always treat the patterns I find but focusing treatment on the shen seems especially important when there is addiction.

Is it exacerbating the conditions the young people are being treated for?

In some cases yes but I see it as a symptom rather than a cause, the biao rather than the ben.

The vapes under-18s can buy are illegally sold to them. They are also usually illegal products which have not been tested for safety and have been shown to contain heavy metals/toxins. Are you seeing evidence of these toxins?

I would see the stagnation and heat in the liver as a reflection of toxicity.

What are the emotional aspects of this? This cohort of young people have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. Do you think this has played a part?

I think the pandemic has been awful for teenagers but I’m not sure there is a direct correlation between that and the increase in vaping. I feel that every generation of teens has ‘their thing’ and sadly vaping is the current one. It’s a way of being accepted by their peers, rebelling against their parents and, in some cases, trying to keep down emotions that are feeling too intense.

How important is it to encourage reduction, cessation or harm reduction?

It is important but it has to be done in a way which doesn’t damage rapport. And treatment often reduces the desire of the teen to vape.

How much is vaping a part of natural teenage exploration – taking risks, feeling like they’re invincible, etc?

Quite a lot I would say!

Do you have wider thoughts about this phenomenon and the slowness of government to regulate or clamp down on it?

It makes me really cross that the government are being so slow on this one. This generation are guinea pigs already in so many ways – with technology etc – and they are proving to be guinea pigs with vaping too.

If you’d like to take part in the current debate about vaping, the UK government is running an open consultation on its proposed actions to tackle smoking and youth vaping – closing date Wednesday 6 December 2023.

And if you have your own concerns or stories to tell about vaping, just get in touch.