I travel the world doing prevention seminars at schools and my greatest concern right now is the explosive popularity of Vaping. Electronic cigarettes of all kinds are essentially nicotine delivery devices – they come in many shapes and sizes and go by different names – e cigs, vapes, vape pens, and most recently Juuls. The ultra-modern, sleekly designed Juul pen and pods, are simple to use and very easy to hide. The equipment itself looks like a USB drive and unlike combustible tobacco cigarettes, it leaves no actual smoke or odor. They even sell fancy skins/covers for the devices so you can be fashionable while you Juul (yes, it’s now a verb). Kids tell me that they like the tricks they can do with the “smoke” (which is actually aerosol) – that is such a cute kid answer and reminds me how young they really are. One student said “it’s something edgy I can do with my friends that won’t really harm me or put me in a casket.” Believe it or not, illegal drug use has been on the decline for the last 20 years for teens aged 12 – 18. Vaping could undermine this trend in the following ways:
*Nicotine is highly addictive and primes the developing brain to be more sensitive to ALL other drugs – by exposing their young brains to nicotine, adolescents are increasing their risk of responding more profoundly to other substances. Illegal drug use tends to track with tobacco use and many experts believe the drop in illicit drug use has been the result of massive reductions in teen cigarette use. They are also setting themselves up for nicotine addiction, which for many people is an expensive, frustrating and lifelong battle.
*Research shows that teens who are vaping/juuling are much more likely to initiate tobacco use, as well as other risky behaviors. Studies reveal that 30% of teens who use e-cigarettes start smoking actual cigarettes within 6 months.
*The flavored liquids or “pods” are essentially unregulated products and we have no long term studies to demonstrate what the actual harm is. My hunch is that inhaling propylene glycol, heavy metals, ultra fine particles and other poisonous gases infused with a heavy dose of nicotine is bound to have health consequences. Each pod has the nicotine level of a pack of cigarettes and supposedly provides 200 “puffs.”
Caring adults need to join the Juul conversation NOW – a company whose tag line is “Smoking Evolved” clearly has the ear of impressionable teens looking for low risk thrills. We need to engage kids in discussions about nicotine addiction and the incredible burden it carries. It is also imperative that young people understand the relationship between nicotine use and other drug use. I would ask my child what is going on in their lives that makes vaping look attractive or interesting. Kids laugh when I say “if you want to do tricks get a skateboard or a yo yo,” but it’s crucial that they have excitement in their lives that rivals risk taking with harmful products. It also seems ridiculous that flavors could be so intriguing, as they can eat actual bananas or chocolate if they like them…but it lets us know that they are indeed children; easily enchanted and open to new experiences – this is the crown and crucifixion of being young.