Story by Sarah Gold, TSET Healthy Living Program
Over the past ten years, e-cigarettes and vaping devices have become incredibly popular. Allegedly, the product was first created for adults who wished to stop smoking. But within the past year, e-cigarette devices, especially Juul, have made their way into schools and college campuses. Many parents, teachers, and school administrators have been hit hard with a harmful fad that’s difficult to combat. While these products continue to rise in popularity, now even gaining the attention of kids in elementary school, it is paramount to communicate with the kids in your life about the danger of these devices.
According to the CDC, E-cigarettes are electronic devices with a battery and a heating element that produce an aerosol. This aerosol is produced by heating “vape juice” that often contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, while others are shaped more like pens, car chargers, or USB drives.
A new and trendy product has been dominating the e-cigarette market over the past year. Many teens have been trying Juul, a new vaping device that closely resembles a USB device and can be charged in any USB port, making them easy to hide in schools and at home. While this product is only supposed to be available to those 18 and older, many middle and high school students are becoming addicted to Juul.
But what makes e-cigarette products dangerous? And what distinguishes Juul from other e-cigarette products? E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular in the last decade and are often used as a way to quit smoking cigarettes. However, many people aren’t aware that these products may be just as harmful as smoking a cigarette. Contrary to popular belief, vaping is not just water vapor. According to a 2016 report of the Surgeon General, vaping consists of a toxic aerosol containing cancer-causing substances. Vape juice also contains products such as formaldehyde, which is used in embalming fluid, and arsenic, a chemical found in rat poison. Vaping is also harmful to your lungs, and you can still get secondhand smoke irritation from vaping. People who regularly vape have also reported issues with “vaper’s tongue” a condition where the taste buds are dulled so much that they can no longer taste the flavor of the vape, but can just feel the sensation of the vapor going down their throat. Many kids are intrigued by the flavor options for e-cigarettes and believe that this makes them harmless. In fact, 85% of kids ages 12-17 report smoking flavored products. Additionally, many students don’t realize that vape products contain nicotine. But a study by the CDC found that 99% of e-cigarettes sold in the United States have nicotine in them.
The nicotine concentration found in Juul makes it especially harmful to teenagers. While the small and sleek design of the Juul device makes it seem harmless, one Juul pod contains 5% nicotine by weight, while most other e-cigarette and vape products contain anywhere from .03% to .12% nicotine. This is as much as smoking an entire pack of cigarettes. And to give even more perspective, Juul would be illegal to sell in most countries because of the extremely high nicotine concentration. This amount of nicotine can be very harmful because it is extremely addictive and can also act as a neurotoxin, altering brain chemistry so that the brain doesn’t function normally without it. Using nicotine in adolescence can harm parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. This can be especially harmful to teenagers, whose brains are still developing.
Unfortunately, Juul and other vaping products are creating a generation of youth that are becoming addicted at a young age, which is carrying over to adulthood. While research about long-term health effects is fairly limited because these products are so new, a 2018 report from the National Academy of Medicine found that there was evidence that e-cigarette use as a child increases the frequency and amount of cigarettes smoked in the future. But research has been super telling about scary habits that youth are developing because of e-cigarette use. One out of every two people under the age of 18 who use e-cigarettes are dual users, meaning they’re vaping along with smoking cigarettes or using another tobacco product. But because e-cigarettes can easily deliver most illegal drugs, marijuana use along with vaping has become very popular. One-third of kids have used a vaping device to smoke marijuana, and twenty percent of middle school children have reported doing the same.
It’s important to talk with the kids in your life about the dangers of all vape products, especially Juul. Vape companies target middle and high school students with their marketing. According to the CDC, 80% of middle and high school students see e-cigarette ads daily. 70% of children see these ads in retail stores, while 40.6% see ads on the internet and 37.7% see ads on television. And to no surprise, the amount of high school students using e-cigarettes has grown from 1.5% to 13.4% from 2011 to 2014, and the amount of spending on e-cig ads rose from 6.4 million to 115 million dollars. According to the surgeon general, in 2015, 1 in 6 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the past month, and unfortunately, these numbers continue to rise.
Many kids want to argue that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking. While e-cigarettes expose the user and the general public to less chemicals and harmful toxins, these products are still incredibly dangerous. And perhaps the most ominous thing is that there is little research about long-term health effects. In twenty to thirty years we could see a generation of former vapers with similar chronic diseases as former smokers. Have a conversation with the kids in your life, and let them know that you are concerned about their health, especially considering the health risks and growing popularity of these products.
Editors Note: Additional information and resources are available at StopsWithMe.com.