One of the latest trends hitting America is vaping. Whether it be shopping centers, places of work, college campuses, and even schools, you can be assured that vaping will be found to some degree. This trend is frightening to many – a smokeless, often odor-less way to deliver nicotine and other substances in a concealed manner has infiltrated our society at a rapid pace. I want to take a moment to share some facts regarding this latest trend.
Vaping goes by many names – it can be called e-cigarettes, vapes, vape pens, or e-hookahs. They come in many shapes and sizes. They can look like cigarettes, cigars or pipes. Some are easily concealed, even looking like a common USB drive – an attraction for many minors. They contain extremely concentrated forms of nicotine. A single JUUL pod can contain as much nicotine as 20 regular cigarettes.
Sometimes vaping is promoted as a method for adults to quit smoking. After years of reliance on cigarettes and nicotine, adults may find this as a bridge to finally “quit.” Other promoted benefits are a less intrusive method for adults wishing to get nicotine, but not wanting to bother others with second- hand smoke. However, these benefits open the door for youth to have access to nicotine and other substances right under their parents’ or teachers’ noses.
Manufacturers often target youth by adding flavors to e-cigarettes (i.e. cotton candy, strawberry- watermelon, etc). They also market on the internet on websites frequented by youth, as cited in a recent Massachusetts lawsuit. Youth are able to conceal vaping devices that look like USB drives, often in plain sight. Bathroom stalls and parking lots become easy gathering spots for vaping the latest flavors. Think this isn’t an issue in rural MO? Nationally, statistics show that 1 in 5 high-schoolers use e-cigarettes, and use is even seen among middle-schoolers.
We know about the nicotine, but what about other risk factors? E-cigarettes contain many substances, often including: diacetyl (linked to serious lung injury), cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals like lead (can cause intellectual disability among youth), volatile chemical compounds, and ultrafine particles. One of the biggest concerns expressed has been that e-cigarettes are such a new technology that we don’t know the impact on our youth. However, we do have data that should raise concern. According to the CDC, as of Oct. 31, 2019, there have been 1,888 lung diseases reported (how many unreported?) and 37 people have died as a result. Among youth, the concerns are even greater, as cognitive development continues into the 20s.
What can parents, educators and others who work with youth do? Educate yourself on what e- cigarettes look like and how they work. Pay attention to flash drives and similar items that children you work with may use. Talk to youth about the dangers of e-cigarettes and the risks for young people. Don’t be afraid to let them know your expectations. Also, don’t assume that it “can’t happen to my students,” or it “won’t be something my child will do.” Peer pressure and curiosity can be powerful adversaries. Talk to youth about techniques and ways to get out of difficult situations. For example, talk through scenarios and coach them on what they might say if a friend approached them and offered to let them try vaping.
The temptation to use nicotine by under-aged youth is nothing new, but with vaping and e-cigarettes the ease of concealment has changed the game. Educating yourself, your children and youth you work with is the first step slowing this alarming trend. You might just change, or even save, a life.
Shaun Murphy is a county engagement specialist for the University of Missouri Extension.