Electronic Smoking: a Trend or a Trap?
Confronting the increase of adolescent nicotine use
Less than a half a century ago it was common to see teenagers smoking socially, with their parents, or as a pastime. The past few decades have seen a major increase in public knowledge and education on the effects of tobacco and drug use, and the majority of people know tobacco has major health detriments to themselves and those around them. This does not, however, mean adolescent nicotine use has vanished. In place of foul smelling, smoke emitting cigarettes, teens have turned to electronic “e-cigarettes” to get a hit of nicotine.
“Vaping” as e-cigarette use has been dubbed, is a term referencing the vaporized liquid that serves as a vehicle for nicotine to enter the body. Though vaping products vary in names and structure, ranging from thumb-sized vape pens and electronic nicotine delivery devices (ENDS), to e-hookahs and vaporizers, the idea is basically the same. Instead of breathing in smoke, users breath in a vapor produced by e-juice, e-liquid, pods, cartridges, or oils. A major argument for the use of e-cigs in place of traditional cigarettes is the absence of smoke, and therefore tar. Many past smokers use vaping devices in order to stop breathing in these toxic substances, and in many cases hope to use them to ease into quitting altogether. The problem arises when we see the opposite happening.
Nicotine itself is highly addictive and has been linked with the eventual use of other harmful and addictive substances. On the Center on Addiction’s website, Linda Richter explains that more than half of middle-schoolers and high schoolers who used nicotine products displayed symptoms on nicotine addiction. Manufacturers have begun to produce a specific device called “mod pods”, which contain a liquid made from tobacco salts that contain a higher concentration, and therefore highly addictive, burst of nicotine. One of the popular producers of mod pods is the sleek geometric styled Juul™, which is one of the more commonly used products by teens, including KUA and local students. A single Juul™ pod contains 40 mg of nicotine, equal to an entire pack of traditional cigarettes. Resembling a flash drive, the device can be charged on the side of a laptop, or any device with a USB port, making it even more accessible.
Juul™, as well as brands like Vuse™ and Blue e-cigs™, have been under recent inquiry by the FDA for their marketing and sales techniques, seemingly directed at teens and young adults. By offering flavors such as mango, mint, and “Fruit Medley”, as well as using flashy marketing techniques, these brands appeal to a younger audience. According to the FDA announcement released on September 12th, “The agency is asking each company to submit to the FDA within 60 days plans describing how they will address the widespread youth access and use of their products,”.
Many teens see vaping as a harmless activity. Quoting a student, many share the sentiment of “I saw my friends doing it, so it can’t be that bad”. The interesting tricks one can do, such as manipulating the vapor to be released in rings, or blowing it out of one’s nostrils, gamifies nicotine use. Many teenagers see their peers vaping on social media, and the appealing visual effects and attention gained just creates motivation and curiosity for kids to try vaping. Worded wisely by Nicole Hapeman, the school counselor, “people at your age are trying everything… Some of it’s good, some of it’s not. I mean, people are trying Global Scholars [one of KUA’s landmark programs] too!”. Disguised as a social activity, nicotine use has become normalized in teenage social groups all over the world.
It is easy to push this arising problem aside, simply saying “Well that doesn’t happen here.”. In reality, it is happening all around us. When interviewed, each KUA student said they knew a friend who, or they themselves, had vaped nicotine. Many said they knew of kids who vaped on school property often, and that they believed there was a problem with vape use on campus. This is not, by any means, a problem limited to KUA. Students at the local high school were asked the same question, and had a similar response. Each student that was interviewed had vaped, or had friends who regularly vaped in and outside of school.
One student expressed her concerns on the subject, saying “I am concerned people are unaware of the risk they are putting themselves in, because it is seen as a social activity, perhaps a statement of rebellion or popularity, yet rarely is it recognized for the demons it poses.”.
Although vaping is widespread, so is the knowledge of health effects on adolescents. Every student interviewed acknowledged the negative effects of nicotine, specifically on the brain and lungs. There is significant evidence to suggest that nicotine use has serious effects on adolescent brain development. As the brain does not mature completely until the age of 25, nicotine can hinder the development of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for planning, decision making, and moderating social behavior. Adults who used nicotine as an adolescent frequently showed signs of lacking these skills, and were more prone to risky, and often times dangerous behaviors.
An ever-growing market has made way for targeted advertising and a common culture surrounding adolescent consumption of nicotine products. As accessibility increases, so will the teen market. In an academic environment like KUA, this will become a paramount issue not only among students, but teachers and advisers alike. As a community, we need to take into consideration the serious threat posed by these products on the adolescent community, a topic taking presedence in global discussions today.
Richter, Linda. “New Report Assesses the Risks and Benefits of Non-Cigarette Nicotine Products.” Center on Addiction, 8 Mar. 2017, www.centeronaddiction.org/the-buzz-blog/new-report-assesses-risks-and-benefits-non-cigarette-nicotine-products?gclid=CjwKCAjworfdBRA7EiwAKX9HeHOkqxk1lzMq1eEfVmAqU53698p0IKj7Uo8iQ33889wnwpt-MdU8VxoCfjcQAvD_BwE. Accessed 2 Oct. 2018.