Eight out of 100 (7.6%) high school students in the United States smoke regularly. And while that is a decrease since 2011 with a drop of 8.2 %, the majority of youth have flocked to the new trends, Juuling and vaping. 21 out of every 100 students (20.8%) actively use electronic cigarettes, which is a 6% increase since 2011 (CDC). It makes sense, right? The rush received from nicotine without the cancer, respiratory, and cardiovascular disease, is easily attainable and easy to hide! They even smell good and have tasty flavorings. What’s not to love? A lot actually.
At the expense of being cool, teens now run the risk of a whole new added set of health related issues.
Yes, e-juice and pods (juice used to create the vapor) do come in nicotine free options but very few choose that route, because really, what’s the harm in a little “nic”? Mahala Smith said, “I feel like if you use nicotine, it might have a bigger impact on your life, but most people think that if you use nicotine it’s still not dangerous at all.” The truth is nicotine is actually incredibly addictive and its effects cause harm to teens’ developing brains. It leads to problems like learning and attention issues as well as reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is an area critical for a person’s cognitive behavior and decision making, leading to increased sensitivity to other drugs and greater impulsivity (Center4Research). Not to mention, it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and causes increased heart rate, constricted blood vessels, a release of dopamine and a feeling of alertness (ASAPScience). You don’t even have to be the vape user to experience these effects. In an interview with Elyana Jesse she said, “Don’t subject people to secondhand smoke. That’s rude. But, I don’t mind if people vape into my face.” Those just exposed to the clouds created form the vapor are at risk, just like with second hand smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant. The body enjoys the rush, and once it’s absent, a crash and crave cycle begins. A student at West Clermont High School (WCHS) said, “It’s more fun, people want the buzz. I was scared at first, but after a while it’s not worth wasting the money on nicotine free juice when you are not getting any feeling from it.” It only takes six seconds for the active compounds to reach your nervous system, but at least teens are just absorbing water vapor and not smoke. Not quite.
The smoke from cigarettes creates a tar that builds up and blackens your lungs while the e-cigs just use a base that keep the vapor wet without the sogginess that eventually sticks to your lungs. A common base is propylene glycol which is found in cosmetics, food, and theatrical smoke which is known for its irritation to eyes and the causation of respiratory infections. Many producers of e-cigs don’t have regulations on the addictives and often diacetyl is one of them. Diacetyl is a chemical that creates a buttery flavor; it also causes a form of irreversible lung damage called popcorn lung.
Do teens even know what the risks are though? Most said no. A general viewpoint found at WCHS is that as children no one was educated against vaping in the way they were advised not to smoke because “vapes were never for teens, e-cigs were only a way for adults to wean themselves off smoking real cigarettes.” However, they are having the exact opposite effect on teens. It doesn’t replace smoking, but rather encourages it. A study in 2017 found that non smoking adults were four times more likely to start smoking after 18 months of using vapes or JUULs. (Center4research). Katy Ross stated, “My dad smoked all throughout my childhood. He had lung cancer and switched to e-cigs, so vaping always seems like a better option”. Students said that most were not even aware casual vaping was a thing until eighth or ninth grade. They found out about vaping through friends, talking at school, and Instagram accounts displayed online. JUULs are tiny and discreet because they resemble a USB, so they can be easily hidden, making them favored for the thrill of hiding them in class. Peyton Mullins said students view it in a way where “vaping is better than JUULs because you can control the nicotine level, whereas JUULs are fixed and it’s as much as a pack of cigarettes. People choose to use vapes with low nicotine levels because of the dopamine. The act of hitting the vape is fun. People are okay with JUULs because they’re easier to conceal and therefore increase the dopamine level because there is no risk to this behavior.” students tend to not see any issue with the potential harm that comes from Juuling, or the results from getting caught with one.
Cincinnati recently raised the smoking age from 18 to 21; this in theory is a great option, but in reality, it just adds a second step to the process and won’t really stop anyone. When questioned most teens said they would find a new “plug” or go to a neighboring city. “If you can’t get it here then you’ll find a new plug, the same as before when we were underage.” Kentucky already has cheaper tobacco products and will thrive off of the incoming tax dollars from the influx of addicted young adults. A source who wishes to remain anonymous stated, “You can find someone older and pay more that way. Some places don’t even ID, and those places that don’t ID are more expensive because now they can get more kids to pay.” But why is Juuling so trendy? How are teens getting so hooked on it? A senior at WCHS said most people start because “Everybody else is doing it. Cigarettes are gross, but JUULs are convenient and give a bigger buzz.” The notorious JUUL is easy to charge through a USB port within the hour and even has a patented formula that uses nicotine salts rather than freebase nicotine like most vape manufacturers. The salts are closer to the natural structure of nicotine in tobacco leaves, making it easier to inhale for extended periods of times because it’s more readily absorbed into the bloodstream (Center4research).
Studies on cigarettes are long term, and because e-cigs are relatively new, there hasn’t been enough time to get the desired data. So, even scientists can’t determine exactly what results from vaping.