Teens and vaping: UTEP researchers explore effects on motivation and decision making

“It is very concerning to see so many young people using e-cigarettes,” UTEP researcher said.


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A $120,000 grant is enabling UTEP researchers to explore the effects of vaping on motivation and decision making.

Pablo Gallegos, Contributor

A team consisting of postdoctoral fellow Felix Matos and UTEP professors Dr. Ian Mendez and Dr. Laura O’Dell is conducting research on vaping and its effect on motivation and decision making in adolescents.

The team received a $120,00 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that went into effect earlier this month to establish a nicotine vaping system for rodents to model the effects of nicotine vaping in males and females, since past models did not prove to be accurate.

“Their (adolescent) brains are more malleable, kind of like putty. They are easily influenced, and it is very concerning to see so many young people using e-cigarettes,” Mendez said. “Adolescents are using nicotine vapor because they are under the assumption that they are harmless, but the truth is, we don’t know how it affects the brain.”

Vaping is a relatively new concept, making the effects it has on the human body still unknown. However, according to Mendez, nicotine addiction can lead  to psychological and physical symptoms as the body becomes dependent on the drug. As with many addictions, nicotine withdrawal and dependence have genetic and environmental components that may cause an individual to relapse.

Earlier this year, people were at  hospitals because of lung issues associated with vaping, when COVID-19 hit it was discovered that individuals that vape are more susceptible to the disease than non-smokers, according to research by Stanford’s School of Medicine.

E-cigarette companies have also been questioned for their target audience and sales techniques, which include making their products in different flavors to attract underage individuals.

The grant  is set to last from 2020 to 2023 and will provide the appropriate resources  to hire a graduate student  and purchase supplies.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the  project experienced a setback in April when the grant was awarded. However, Mendez said UTEP and his team’s support helped him continue the project while abiding by health and safety regulations..

Pablo Gallegos may be reached at [email protected]