A NEW GENERATION OF NICOTINE ADDICTS HAVE EASY ACCESS TO VAPING—AND THEY DON’T KNOW THE RISKS.
Introduction by Ciera, a former high school student
For a brief moment in history, smoking was uncool. I remember seeing the kids in high school: leaning against their car, cigarettes dangling from their fingers. My friends and I would roll our eyes. “Gross—they probably smell like smoke.” But things have changed. My friends still think smoking is gross, but vaping is different. Vaping is easy and discrete. It can taste like strawberries and look like a flash drive. It’s not smoking—smoking is gross. Our parents smoked. This is vaping. It’s different. But is it?
TEEN VAPING: A NATIONWIDE EPIDEMIC
In December of 2018, the Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued a rare advisory. He declared e-cigarette use among youth a national epidemic.
The research supports Adams’ advisory. According to a 2019 Monitoring the Future survey, more than 1 in 4 high school seniors reported vaping nicotine in the previous 30 days. That was nearly double the number of seniors recorded just two years ago in 2017.
E-cigarettes are now the most frequently used tobacco product among adolescents. Some 2.1 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users in 2017 — far surpassing traditional cigarettes. Critics have blamed e-cig advertising for targeting younger audiences with fun flavors and bright colors. What’s more, younger audiences seem to view vaping as a safer alternative.
In a 2018 Missouri Student Survey, e-cigs were viewed by youth as the least risky substance followed by alcohol use. In the same survey, 65% of students said smoking traditional cigarettes (one or more packs a day) is a ‘great risk.’ It’s evident that students view e-cigs as something completely different—and less dangerous. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
BUT DOES VAPING LEAD TO OTHER DRUGS?
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that teenagers who try e-cigarettes are more likely to begin smoking traditional cigarettes later on. Take this conclusion with a grain of salt: the authors note there’s just a strong association, not necessarily causation. They can’t necessarily prove that vaping is a gateway drug. But they did see that teens who start with e-cigarettes may be more likely to initiate cigarette smoking.
If e-cigs are a gateway drug, though, then the central source is JUUL.
JUUL MAY BE WIDELY ACCESSIBLE, BUT THE DANGERS AREN’T WIDELY KNOWN.
JUUL is a popular e-cig brand that has quickly dominated the market. JUULs operate through cartridges called JUUL pods that contain vape liquid. The pods are usually sold in packs of four and come in flavors like cucumber, mango, and creme brulee. Each pod is said to contain 200 puffs.
One can buy refills online or in-person where prices can range from $10 to $25 depending on the store and local taxes. Youth are more likely to buy JUULs at physical retail locations where they seem to have no issue acquiring the product.
JUULs are relatively accessible to kids and teens. Adding to the issue, most youth and young adult users have no idea what they are ingesting.
A recent study published by the Truth Initiative found that, among current youth and young adult JUUL users, only 37% knew that the product always contains nicotine. Most teens incorrectly assume that these e-cigs are essentially flavoring. In reality, one JUUL pod is equal to one pack of cigarettes.
Richard Miech is the lead investigator at Monitoring the Future. He also studies substance abuse trends at the University of Michigan. In his opinion, teen vaping trends are very alarming. Miech explains that the e-cig industry has a lot to gain in targeting a younger audience. It may be up to teachers and parents to counteract widespread e-cig use.
VAPING: THE HARD FACTS
As a parent or guardian, it’s important to understand the risks associated with vaping. Here are some quick facts.
- The nicotine content of one JUUL pod is equivalent to one pack of cigarettes. (Truth Initiative)
- Because of these high nicotine levels, vaping is extremely addictive. (Science News for Students)
- Addiction is different for teens. Because of brain development, teens are more susceptible to addiction and may be more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol use as a result. (Child Mind Institute)
- A recent study found that vaping does, in fact, cause lung irritation like what is seen in smokers and people with lung disease. It can also cause damage to vital immune system cells. (BMJ Journals)
- Vaping increases heart rate and blood pressure, leading to increased circulatory problems. One teen who started vaping found that his swim times dropped because he can no longer sustain the heart rate required for swimming. (Child Mind Institute)
- These products have not been tested for safety. Findings in a Pediatrics study found that e-cig users are vaping a number of cancer-causing chemicals including propylene oxide, acrylamide, acrylonitrile, and crotonaldehyde. (Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics)
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
As always, open and honest communication is key. It may feel easier to rely on scare tactics and misinformation, but for this topic, the truth is already convincing. Start a conversation with your teen with these tips as a guide:
- Be educated on the topic, but don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t understand. Your teen will appreciate your transparency and vulnerability.
- Set a good example by avoiding nicotine and tobacco products.
- For the long-term, look for issues on your local ballot. Some areas are beginning to raise the tobacco age to 21, which could cut down on adolescent addiction.
E-cigarette companies want a new generation of addicts. With fun flavor, ease of access, and potent nicotine, it’s no surprise this is an epidemic. While federal regulations may be slow, parents, teachers, and even communities can band together to educate teens early on about the dangers of vaping.
- Adolescent Exposure to Toxic Volatile Organic Chemicals From E-CigarettesU.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018: Surgeon General releases advisory on E-cigarette epidemic among youth
- Monitoring The Future, 2019: National Survey Results on Drug Use
- National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020: Tobacco/Nicotine and Vaping
- Missouri Department of Mental Health, 2018: Student Survey
- JAMA Network, 2019: Association of Electronic Cigarette Use With Subsequent Initiation of Tobacco Cigarettes in US Youths
- Truth Initiative, 2018: Where are kids getting JUUL?
- Truth Initiative, 2018: 6 important facts about JUUL
- Science News For Students, 2017: High-nicotine e-cigs up chance teen will become a smoker
- Child Mind Institute, 2020: Teen Vaping: What You Need to Know
- BMJ Journals: Pro-inflammatory effects of e-cigarette vapour condensate on human alveolar macrophages
- Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 2018: Adolescent Exposure to Toxic Volatile Organic Chemicals From E-Cigarettes