To teens who Juul:
Hey, guys. We thought this was an area where you all had us beat, hands-down.
For years, cigarette smoking has been falling among high-school students. In fact, it’s fallen to nearly half of what it was when most of your parents were in high school. Thank goodness your generation realized what a nasty and unhealthy habit it is.
But you all have latched onto e-cigarettes -- vaping or Juuling -- because you think it’s safer than the old cancer sticks.
E-cigarette use grew 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015, according to a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General. In 2015, more than a quarter of students in grades 6 through 12 said they had tried e-cigarettes, along with more than a third of young adults.
Adults didn’t really see this coming, but now we’re all talking about it.
We know that’s not a new USB flash drive. It looks like one, and it even plugs into a laptop to charge, but that device is a way to get a nicotine fix. You carry those pocket-size vaporizers and swap out flavored cartridges that deliver a nicotine hit without tobacco. We’ve heard about the kids who sit in the back of the class sneaking puffs while an unsuspecting teacher lectures. There are middle- and high-school bathrooms filled with vapor between classes. It seems like everyone is doing it, right?
After all, it’s so easy to get. You can lie about your age and buy it online, or go on Snapchat or Instagram and find someone who will sell it to you. We know there’s a local teenager running around like a celebrity, hawking cartridges. But think about this for a minute: Who is trying to convince you that this new kind of smoking is safer? Could it be the same people who will profit from creating a new generation of nicotine addicts? Why do they sell flavors like “gummy bear” and “cotton candy”? Who do you think they are targeting?
The younger you get hooked on nicotine, the longer you’ll be a paying customer. Some research shows that many teens believe they are smoking a “nicotine-free” product. The industry makes its flavored juices in a range of nicotine concentrations, but you have no way of verifying how much you may be getting. And nicotine isn’t the only danger.
There isn’t a huge body of research on the health impacts of vaping on teens, because it’s a relatively new product, having landed in U.S. markets in 2007. But we’re starting to see research emerging. Guess what? These e-cigs are far from harmless.
The vapors you inhale can affect your immune system, some studies show. Teenage vapers are starting to develop “smoker’s cough,” chronic bronchitis and bloody sores in their mouths and throats that are slow to heal.
More data suggests that e-cig vapors may also contain cancer-causing chemicals. There are hundreds of unregulated brands, and thousands of flavors. A cartridge of “juice,” the liquid that goes inside the device, can contain toxic metals, along with the nicotine, propylene glycol, solvents and flavors. Dripping or super-heating the juice can transform chemicals into toxic, carcinogenic ones.
Dr. Nadeem Ahmed, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at St. Anthony’s Health Center in Alton, Illinois, talks to his patients every day about e-cigs. He shared information about recent studies that looked at the lungs of smokers, e-cig users and nonsmokers, and found that e-cig users have a lot more inflammation and inflammatory proteins than nonsmokers.
The vapor itself, even without tobacco, causes inflammation.
Teens who vape are six times more likely to try cigarette smoking than those who have never vaped, research suggests. And Dr. Ahmed said that people don’t generally just abuse one substance.
It’s really hard to quit nicotine. We’ve seen our parents, our friends, our partners struggle to give it up. If you can’t make it through a school day without Juuling, your body is already addicted to a chemical. When you get addicted to nicotine, you can suffer withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. That means you’re buying more and smoking more.
The teenage brain is primed to get hooked on chemicals more quickly than the adult brain.
A little more than a decade ago, e-cigs looked like the way smokers would be able to kick a habit proven to be hazardous to their health. We didn’t think it would become a way to threaten the progress we’ve made on teenage smoking.
We’ve been so worried about keeping you away from opioids or painkillers or illegal drugs that we didn’t think you would stumble into this nasty habit the way that you have. It’s not a good look.
It looks like you’re gambling with your health and getting played so someone can make a buck off of you.