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Let’s Talk About The Teen Vaping Epidemic
According to the FDA administered 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, over 5 million youth are regularly using e-cigarette products, with the most popular being the JUUL brand. Of these users, one-quarter of them are reliant on e-cigarettes daily. The teen vaping epidemic has declined slightly since the onset of the pandemic, with many students unable to purchase these products, but it still remains a national concern for all health experts.
The problem “has been overshadowed, but it’ll come back,” says Dr. Nancy Rigotti, the director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital, to TODAY. “Vaping is still an important issue just as I think smoking is still an important issue … We’ve sort of forgotten about it because we’ve had a bigger health concern to worry about.”
Experts are adamant that the fight against tobacco use- the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States- remains a top national priority, especially for the safety of our own youth. Heavy tobacco use is rapidly sending teens across the country to rehabilitation centers, many of whom are as young as 15-years old.
This is largely due to the strategic marketing of companies like JUUL, which have profited from the onset of the teen vaping epidemic. “If you look at the actual marketing Juul did, they clearly went after kids,” says Stanton Glantz, the director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco (Drugwatch). With hundreds of lawsuits emerging, the deceitful marking strategies of the corporation continue to be exposed, and JUUL is being held at greater responsibility for hooking millions of teenagers onto their highly addictive products.
It’s important that all individuals understand the severity of the teen vaping epidemic, and why companies like JUUL must be further regulated for the sake of our nation’s health.
The Rapid Rise of JUUL
JUUL has revolutionized the e-cigarette industry, especially amongst teenagers. Its inconspicuous design, vast array of flavors, and indistinguishable scent have made the rise of the teen vaping epidemic all too easy. “Juul is easily concealable from parents and teachers and can be used practically anywhere,” complained Lisa Marie Vail, a parent who lost her son to the vape. “Unlike traditional cigarettes, the scent does not linger on the body or in the breath of the user, making it undetectable after use. Googling ‘hiding Juul in school’ or ‘how to ghost rip Juul’ returns hundreds of videos on how to Juul anywhere without detection.”
Because of its innovative practicality, students are able to use their Juuls just about anywhere, with the most common place being high school bathrooms. Students often excuse themselves from class in order to take a puff in the bathroom stalls, a gathering site for others doing the same. Thousands of school administrators across the country have continued developing measures to prevent this phenomenon, such as installing high-level vaping detectors to prohibit this type of behavior, but they have been largely unsuccessful at catching students in the act.
So how did this addiction rise to prominence so quickly?
The vaping industry has been mass-marketed to teens from an early age. In terms of advertisement strategy, JUUL has avoided marketing on platforms that would easily be discovered by parents- such as radio stations and television- and has instead sought out a presence in “kid-friendly social medias” (Drugwatch). Moreover, its sweet and fruity flavors have played a large role in the acceleration of teen vaping. “Young people like sweet and fruity flavors and are drawn to them more than mature adults. A mature adult smoker is acclimatized to unsweetened tobacco flavor,” says drug researcher Robert K Jackler. As a result, the majority of consumers of the JUUL are the ones who benefit most from the array of flavors available, namely young teenagers.
The corporation’s goal has always been aimed at hooking the youth onto their vaping products. Unsurprisingly, the concealable shape of the JUUL, the discreet marketing strategy of teen persuasion, and the thousands of kid-friendly vape flavors have all played a large role in the rise of the teen vaping epidemic.
Vaping vs. Cigarettes
In some ways, vaping products are even more harmful, particularly to adolescents, than cigarettes are. Marked as an alternative to help individuals quit their smoking addiction, the JUUL has only accelerated the reliance and use of nicotine (Edutopia).
According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), e-cigarette use amongst middle school and high school students has tripled from 2013 to 2014 alone. Currently, over 50 percent of kids are more reliant on vaping products than on traditional tobacco cigarettes. “We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette, or cigar,” warns Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”
With e-cigarettes, nicotine use is at the fingertips of any teenager, regardless of their immediate surroundings. Students can be in a school hallway, a subway car, or their own bedroom, and the scent of sour patch vape will be almost undetectable. This only increases the frequency at which vaping products are being used, and it grants students the free liberty to smoke without any consequence.
There is also a common misconception that students who regularly use vape pens are taking the safer route than if they were to be using traditional cigarettes. “Cigarettes are a lot more harmful and people know they’re a lot more harmful,” says Jojo, a 14-year-old interviewee in Teen Vogue. “They have a bunch of chemicals in them, like tar. The thing with Juuling is that people know it’s harmful, but they don’t know what way it’s harmful in. I feel like that kind of ambiguity makes them think that it’s safe.” This ambiguity that Jojo mentions is what leads many teenagers to believe that they’re better off smoking e-cigarettes. In reality, vaping is easily just as harmful.
Dangerous of Vaping To Teen Health
How many puffs constitutes one JUUL pod? 100? 150? 200? Essentially, it’s enough to get the average user through one whole day. According to the manufacturer, one pod- a single day spent vaping- is equivalent to the nicotine content of 20 cigarettes.
The most pressing danger of vaping is, of course, nicotine addiction. The nicotine salts that are used in vaping products are not only more heavily concentrated than in traditional cigarettes, but they have a much faster effect on the brain. In other words, they metabolize quicker. As a result, teenagers who use e-cigarette products need a greater number of fixes during the day to avoid feelings of illness (PEW Research).
“Nicotine will actually alter the structure of a developing brain, and we have no idea what that will do in the long run,” says professor Robert Klesges at the University of Virginia Cancer Center. “[A]ll the adverse health consequences that we know about in e-cigarettes are short-term health consequences, and it will be 30 to 40 years before we know how dangerous e-cigarettes are.” Currently, extensive research is being conducted on the health risks of vaping, and new discoveries are coming to light.
The first is centered around the window of time in which vaping is harmful to a growing adolescent. It has long been known that cigarettes- responsible for causing cancer, heart disease, strokes, and other debilitating diseases- usually begin to take effect after a decade. However, reports from the CDC in 2019 have proven that vaping can cause serious lung damage and potential seizures in less than a year (NCHR). As the vaping age for adolescents rapidly continues to lower, this news is extremely alarming for all vape users. Not only are they subject to such severe health risks, but they also may experience them in one tenth of the time that an avid cigarette smoker would.
There is also a general misunderstanding surrounding the chemicals found in e-cigarettes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 66 percent of teens believe that e-cigarettes are primarily made from sweet flavoring. This is far from accurate. Since 2009, the CDC has warned of the “detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could be exposed” through vaping products. Many of these chemicals- like formaldehyde and acrolein- are known for their cancer-causing properties, and they have been found at much higher levels than maximumly recommended for human intake.
Overall, e-cigarettes continue to be marketed towards teenagers as fun, tobacco-free devices that come in an array of tasty flavors. In reality, their deadly chemical properties and short lifespan prove otherwise.
Fighting The Teen Vaping Epidemic
It’s important that adolescents remain aware of the fatal consequences that vaping has on healthy development. Despite the seemingly kid-friendly ambiance that corporations like JUUL work to create, the products themselves are neither fun nor safe.
Especially during these pandemic times, it is important to prioritize the health of yourself and those around you. The coronavirus will be most detrimental to individuals with already-compromised immune systems. Working to quit a vaping addiction will ensure you the greatest chance of staying safe and keeping loved ones safe as well.