A Note from Kim’s on E-Cigs

Hello everyone- Kim again.

Today I am writing about something that has really become a “hot topic” for me since I started this position: vaping, e-cigs, Juuls… can you relate? The e-cig trend is huge, and I had an idea on how popular it was with people my age (twenties) but did not realize that nearly every single high school student AND middle school student we spoke with has smoked, or knows someone who has smoked an e-cig.

I personally do not see the appeal, however, I also have proper stress management skills, I don’t feel the need to look cool (at this point I have just accepted that I never will be cool), and I am well educated on the scary and potentially critical effects these e-cig products have on the body. I feel a lot of adults resonate with this thought; how can our teens be so drawn to something so unappealing and dangerous? We know cigarettes are basically a certified killer, and these are just electronic versions, AKA different chemicals, different risk, but more unknown. It can be easy for us adults to be frustrated with the younger generation in regards to their e-cig usage, but it is also up to us to educate our children, students, nieces, nephews, friends, whomever, on the hazards of smoking e-cigs. Please read on.

To start, some facts, because I was a teen once and I needed LEGIT facts to back up every argument an adult figure had with me. I was “that” kid who consistently asked, “but why?” (It was definitely more of a whine but whatever, sorry mom and dad).

E-cigarettes have only been around for a decade. Cigarettes of some form have been around for thousands of years. It has taken us this long to fully understand the fatal damage cigarettes can cause us, so it’s only fair that we don’t fully understand the damage of e-cigs quite yet. Quick refresher, per the CDC, cigarettes are the leading cause of lung cancer (over 90% of the lung cancer diagnoses come from the person being a cigarette smoker), and they also have caused more deaths that illegal drug use, HIV, alcohol abuse, care accidents, and fire-arm related accidents COMBINED. Again, these facts are years in the making and we are only getting started with e-cigarette research.

With my experiences in the classroom thus far, I have found the following to be the most effective points for teens:

  • Each class we spoke with has a friend, or has themselves smoked an e-cig. Every student knows they have to be 18 to purchase this product, and coincidentally every student knows they are not yet 18.  This is important to note I think, because we consequently asked why they are smoking if it is not legal for a person their age to even get the product. Answers are the same among most classes: they want to look cool, everyone else is doing it, they like the feeling of rebelling, it’s a good stress relief, and it’s something to do. We have heard these responses time and time again throughout history of teens doing unhealthy, sometimes illegal things. We can definitely go at this argument by providing them with other ideas of things to do. Insert any idea that does not involve dangerous substances- what happened to Pokémon Go?!
  • When the chemicals in the e-liquid get heated, they turn into all sorts of dangerous chemicals. For instance, formaldehyde. Most teens have heard of this but are not super familiar with what the chemical is used for- I love to point out this chemical is used in preserving dead bodies and organs. Some e-liquids also have acetone in it, which is used as nail polish remover (I always reference how badly it stings when you get nail polish remover in a cut on your finger, and to imagine the damage that can do your insides). Butter flavorings such as butterscotch and popcorn have been found to contain diactyl, which is the main cause of “popcorn lung”. Show your teen an image of this. Yikes.
  • Big Tobacco has paid billions and billions of dollars to have stake and put their nicotine in e-cig products. You can also google this for further proof. So, even if a teen argues that the e-cig does not have nicotine and they are not addictive, which in their defense is how they’re advertised, remind them that they are not FDA regulated and therefore can basically tell us whatever they want. Chances are, there is nicotine in the e-cig product they’re using. And studies have shown smoking one Juul pod is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes.
  • Multiple journals and studies (authored by people MUCH smarter than me) have come out with findings that e-cigs cause similar damage to oral cell tissues as smoking cigarettes does to oral cell tissues. In fact, they have seen the same molecular change in the oral tissues in a person who smokes an e-cig as a person who smokes a cigarette (Journal of Oral Oncology). Additionally, smoking e-cigs can lower your immunity, making your body weaker and thus making it harder to fight off those carcinogens (American Journal of Physiology- Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology).
  • E-cigs can explode. Spontaneously combust. In a person’s mouth, their pocket, their hand…. Ouch?!
  • Smoking e-cigs drastically, by over 30%, increases your chances of smoking a normal cigarette within the next six months. No matter how many times a person says “I will never smoke a cig”, chances are they will become a lifelong smoker.

We still don’t know everything, but clearly, what we do know does not paint a pretty picture. Who knows what these chemicals will do to our bodies in the long run (the cinnamon flavor is created with cinnamaldehyde which is banned by OSHA, acetaldehyde is another flavoring and is in paint stripper). I was a teen once, not too long ago even, and I remember wanting to fit in and desperately wanting to not be made fun of. I found saying “nah” or “no thanks” is empowering. It feels good to do good things for your body. I also think of it as no one is going to remember if you smoked that Juul or not in high school, but they will remember you at the class reunion when role up with glowing skin, in stellar shape, have a lovely family, and be cancer-free because you have led a healthy, smoke free life.

Overall, education is crucial on this topic and there are new findings out every day. The kids and teens are our future, and we need them around a long time.