There is an epidemic on the rise and no, it is not a disease. Instead, it is a widespread and increased risk for nicotine addiction and dependence: vaping. The term “vaping” stems from the action of using electronic cigarettes (or e-cigs), an example of which is JUUL, a new type of electronic cigarette device that has gained immense popularity ever since its launch three years ago. What exactly is the problem here? The problem is that these e-cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive chemical that has long-term impacts on brain development among children and teens. And to make matters worse, it especially targets American youth and school-aged children with an assortment of flavors, so much so that the United States’ Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams has issued an advisory. He warns, “a 2018 National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report concluded that there was moderate evidence that e-cigarette use increases the frequency and intensity of cigarette smoking in the future. But any e-cigarette use among young people is unsafe, even if they do not progress to future cigarette smoking.” As Dr. Adams said himself, vaping incredibly harmful to young people and yet, a study from the University of Maryland found that 11% of high school seniors, 8% of tenth graders, and 3.5% of middle schoolers have reported vaping within a one-month period. Without a doubt, it is evident that vaping is harmful to the developing teenage brain and with the prevalence of e-cigarette usage among high schoolers, electronic cigarette companies should be imposed with more rules and regulations to help mitigate teen vaping. At the same time, students should also be provided with an extensive nicotine education.
More Than an “Alternative”
Originally, electronic cigarettes were invented as a safer way and cleaner way to smoke cigarettes. Its creation was aimed towards a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette for individuals that struggle with cigarette addiction. However, in recent years, e-cigarettes have evolved to be something much more than an alternative. With colorful packaging and an assortment of flavors, electronic cigarettes are becoming quite the attraction, especially for the American youth. Common flavors like cherry, mint, and vanilla— or newer flavors such as creme brulee and mango— promotes the attraction of youths to vaping. Appealing packages also play a significant role in this “attraction;” this causes teens to perceive these products as less harmful and increases the likelihood of teenagers trying electronic cigarettes. With that, the American youth should be provided with an extensive nicotine addiction education for them to see beyond the pretty packages and the alluring flavors and be able to see electronic cigarettes as a way of compromising their health and wellbeing.
The Epidemic Issue
With a variety of flavors, appealing packages, and marketability, so many American teenagers are being exposed to electronic cigarettes. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that about 3.6 million middle and high school students in the United States vape regularly. I, myself, am no stranger to this epidemic. As a high school student, I have had first-hand experiences with some of my closest peers being lured into the world of vaping and “juuling,” even though they are synonymous. Reasons such as peer pressure, the joy of the risk, and experimentation come up when posed with the question, “Why do you vape?” and time and time again; it surprises me how quitting does not seem to be an option. It is also mind-blowing to see how easy it is for these individuals to get their hands on electronic cigarettes. A Truth Initiative study found that nearly three-fourths of 12-to-17-year-olds obtained JUUL at a physical retail location, more than half obtained it from a family member or friend, and six percent through the internet. The problem here is that these electronic cigarettes, especially JUUL, are not regulated enough. By law, individuals under the age of 18 are not allowed to purchase JUUL products, but they have ways to obtain it anyway. Clearly, tighter laws and regulations on electronic cigarette devices and products should be imposed to stop this epidemic.
Health Risks and Concerns
Electronic cigarettes contain nicotine which affects brain development among adolescents and increases your likelihood of addiction as well as cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, and high blood pressure. It doesn’t stop there since electronic cigarettes can also affect your social life as a high-schooler and can impair your ability to focus on school. Imagine being controlled by a device that gives you a temporary feeling of satisfaction; surely this habit will become more prevalent over time. This means that instead of friends, a person starts to spend more time with their electronic cigarette. And if their friends also smoke, then that individual will be unable to focus on schoolwork and learning. All of a sudden, dependency towards nicotine controls an individual and leaves them powerless to make decisions. For these reasons, electronic cigarettes are harmful and damaging to a developing adolescent.
What Can We Do?
Fortunately, it is not too late to put a halt to this epidemic that is damaging the young minds of America. A definite and probable solution is to increase governmental oversight on electronic cigarette companies such as JUUL Labs, Altria, NJOY and various more. This includes imposing tight rules and regulations that can limit the number of vape flavors available, increase the legal minimum age to vape by a few years, assign higher taxes on electronic cigarettes, put necessary warning labels, and regulate how vape companies advertise their products and make them less appealing to the youth. By imposing these necessary steps, children and teens will be less likely to purchase and succumb to the temptation of electronic cigarettes.
Furthermore, schools and local communities can also help by engaging and supporting anti-nicotine campaigns like the Truth Initiative Campaign and the FDA’s The Real Cost Campaign. Aside from supporting campaigns, another approach in persuading people to stop or prevent them from vaping is to show them the cold, hard facts about electronic cigarette use. This can be done by teaching youngsters through curriculum-based education about the harmful health effects of vaping and how it can lead to life-long addiction.
On top of that, increasing parental oversight can also help diminish vape use in school-aged children. By holding vaping awareness assemblies, school open houses and community meetings, where parents are able to attend and obtain education about the many health concerns associated with electronic cigarettes, can serve as a platform to guide parents on how to talk to their children about the dangers of vaping, which can help students think before they smoke. All in all, in all aspects of society, we must work together to put an end to the current vaping epidemic so that we can make sure that our future is bright and unclouded by the smokes from electronic cigarettes.
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