While most teenagers wouldn’t be caught dead with a cigarette, vaping has surged as an acceptable form of nicotine. An increase in e-cigarette use among U.S. youth, coupled with no change in use of other tobacco products during 2017 to 2018, has erased recent progress in reducing tobacco product use among youth, according to the CDC.
“People don’t understand the dangers of vaping,” said Amber Pelletier, director of health promotions for the American Lung Association in Massachusetts. “They think it’s just water. They think whatever product they use is different.”
E-cigarettes contain chemicals that can cause irreversible lung damage and alter teenage brains, such as formaldehyde, which is known to cause cancer. Another ingredient is acrolein, which is used as a weed killer and can cause irreversible lung damage. Nicotine is addictive and exposure during adolescence can harm the developing brain, according to the American Lung Association.
Pelletier recently visited a middle school, which gave three-day suspensions for students with tobacco. Out of a class of 25, 17 students were suspended for vaping.
“As I’m on stage presenting on what these products are and what’s in them, I heard people say ‘But it tastes so good!’ and ‘I love Juuling,’” Pelletier said.
Companies such as Juul target young people with flavored tobacco, such as pineapple and mango, which have been banned by the Food and Drug Administration. E-cigarettes made for youth are designed to look like USB drives and Sharpie markers, allowing the addicted to take discreet puffs throughout the day.
“Kids can walk through halls and go to their locker to take a puff,” Pelletier said. “Or when the teacher turns around, a vape cloud disappears quickly and there’s no smell.”
The FDA has approved nicotine patches or gum for cessation, which provide a stable dose of nicotine over time. E-cigarettes are not regulated, so someone could get a small amount of nicotine one time but a much higher dose another time.
“The biggest thing is to educate everyone and get people to understand why these products are so dangerous,” Pelletier said.
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