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Teen Vaping Epidemic

Teen Vaping Epidemic

A new generation of nicotine addicts find vaping accessible and potent

For a brief moment in history, smoking was uncool. I remember seeing the kids in high school: leaning against their car, cigarettes dangling between their fingers. My friends and I would roll our eyes. “Gross, they probably smell like smoke.” However, 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?

This past 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 2018 Monitoring the Future survey released in December, 1 in 5 high school seniors reported vaping nicotine in the previous 30 days. That was nearly double the 11 percent recorded 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.

E-cigarettes (E-cig) are on the rise. Critics have blamed e-cig advertising for targeting younger audiences with fun flavors and bright colors. Additionally, younger audiences seem to view vaping as a safer alternative. In the 2018 Missouri Student Survey, e-cigs were seen as the least risky substance followed by alcohol usage (no specified amount). In the same survey, 65% of students said smoking traditional cigarettes (one or more packs a day) is a ‘great risk.’ It is evident that students view E-cigs as something completely different.

Why you should be worried

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 that there is 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, then the central source is JUUL. JUUL is a popular e-cig brand that has quickly dominated the market. JUULs operate through cartridges called JUULpods 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 this nicotine product.

JUULs are relatively accessible for youth. 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. The truth is, one JUULpod is equal to one pack of cigarettes.

Richard Miech is the lead Monitoring the Future investigator. 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.

The Facts

As a parent, it is important to understand the risks associated with vaping. Here are some fast facts.

  • The nicotine content of one JUULpod is equivalent to one pack of cigarettes.
  • Because of these high nicotine levels, vaping is extremely addictive
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Vaping increases heart rate and blood pressure leading to increase 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
  • 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

What can parents do?

As always, open and honest communication is key. It may feel easier to rely on scare tactics and misinformation. For this topic, the truth is already convincing. Start a dialogue with your teen. Be educated on the topic, but also do not be afraid to admit what you don’t understand. 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 is no surprise that this is an epidemic. While federal regulations may be slow, parents and teachers can help in the meantime by educating teens early on about the dangers of vaping.

Ciera DuBan
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