You may know of the epidemic currently affecting our youth: e-cigarette use. The unfortunate art of deceptive advertising has been perfected by multiple e-cigarette companies as their products have made their way into the hands of students as young as middle school.
Believe it or not, it’s not just the rebellious kids getting involved with nicotine, it’s the class presidents and the varsity athletes who are falling to the epidemic, too. One in five students between the ages of 12 and 17 use vape products, and these numbers are only increasing.
Despite the scary statistics, tobacco use is still known as the most preventable health problem that one can face. With the help of the Tobacco Education & Prevention Coalition of Porter County and support from Smokefree Indiana and Valparaiso University’s College of Nursing, you can stay educated on how to keep yourself and those around you tobacco-free.
How did it start?
It was not until studies began to prove the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer that cigarette use began to decline, and marketing surrounding it took a turn from being cool and trendy to harmful and life-threatening. The evidence that tobacco is damaging has been understood for some time, so what changed to allow 12% of teens be put in the category of tobacco users in 2017 versus the 1% recorded in 2011?
One major contributor was the arrival of e-cigarettes like JUUL. First released in 2015, JUUL markets themselves as a “satisfying alternative to cigarettes.” In reality, their product is putting both teens and adults on a track of nicotine dependence.
For most teens, the use does not transition from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes. Instead, it starts with e-cigarettes on a one-time basis for fun or just to try it. This then turns into more frequent use in peer settings and can quickly turn into addiction.
As shared by Amy Blaker, Coordinator for Tobacco Education & Prevention for Valparaiso University, “Part of the problem is that there’s a lot of misinformation. JUUL and any e-cigarette brand has been able to say that they are a smoking cessation tool, but they have never applied with the FDA to be considered a smoking cessation tool.”
Their products give false, dangerous information to consumers in more ways than just one. The work JUUL has done to target youth specifically is clear in the design of their product. With kid-friendly flavors like tooty-fruity and skittles, and a sleek, modern design that appeals to the generation that loves technology, it is no secret that they have made an appeal to teens.
Additionally, many students have become clever in hiding the products from parents and teachers, and these companies are only adding to the problem. Most students hide it in their sleeves, but there is even apparel that is made where the products can be hidden in your clothes and backpacks.
Not only does their marketing lead innocent youth down the wrong path, but the products are misunderstood for how much nicotine they contain. Each JUUL pod contains 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine, or 200 puffs, according to their website. This can be extreme when you consider how that concentration is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, with many users going through a pod in a day.
What are the effects?
When considering the phenomenal increase in tobacco use in teens over the past couple of years, the most alarming aspect is the effect of nicotine on young brains.
“Teens still have developing brains until the age of 25, and nicotine is very, very harmful, not to mention it’s extremely addictive,” said Blaker. “It’s one of the most addictive substances out there.”
As described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it takes only 10 seconds for nicotine and other chemicals to make their way to your brain.
Next, consider the effects of the harmful chemicals and flavoring. Aside from nicotine, the products also contain ultrafine particles, chemicals like diacetyl in flavorings, cancer-causing chemicals, and heavy metals like nickel, tin, and lead, all of which make their way into your lungs.
The flavoring, for example, has never been tested as a safe inhalant. Countless studies have shown certain flavorings to be safe to digest, but no research has ever been done to test what kind of long-term health effects these flavor chemicals will have when inhaled.
Most of all, kids and their parents should understand that frequent use of any e-cigarette product has a high chance of leading to traditional cigarette use. With nicotine being so addictive, the use among teens appearing
“cool,” and JUUL products being so expensive, it all leads to the fact that more and more teens are turning to traditional cigarette use.
What do you look for and how do you help?
E-cigarettes come in many different shapes and sizes. Most have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold liquid. Some look like a traditional cigarette, while others are similar to flash drives or pens. The JUUL product takes the design of a USB drive, and the pods that are put in them look like a small mouthpiece.
These products may appear harmless due to their design and advertising, but it’s important to understand that seeing your child using an e-cigarette product or smoking a traditional cigarette is nearly identical.
The best way to help is to stay educated.
As a peer, inform your other peers of how harmful these products are. During her work at Valparaiso University, Blaker has learned that the most effective way to prevent use is peer-to-peer interactions.
However, both youth and their parents have the power to learn the dangers of these products and use it to educate others.
As a parent or guardian, talk to your children about the risks of e-cigarette use. Demonstrate a positive example by being tobacco-free, and set firm expectations.
Blaker emphasized the work being done with area agencies such as the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs to form a strong coalition of community members to help with youth prevention.
“We are definitely going to have a bigger focus on [prevention] this coming grant cycle for the next two years because it has become, in the words of the CDC, an epidemic in schools - that’s not a word that the CDC throws around,” said Blaker.
For more information and resources to help you or someone you know, visit the Tobacco Education & Prevention Coalition of Porter County’s website here, read the CDC’s infographic about e-cigarettes, or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.