Long gone are the days of 1950s Hollywood glamour when cigarettes were widely associated with beauty and sophistication. Since the 1990s, campaigns heavily emphasizing the dangers of tobacco have dominated American culture. From commercials and billboards to anti-smoking initiatives executed in schools across the country, as well as tobacco restrictions and tax increases, cigarettes have drastically declined in acceptability over the decades. However, in the wake of tobacco’s decline, a new trend rises among teens and young adults.
The Center on Addiction describes vaping as, “the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16 percent (2.39 million) of high school kids vaped in 2015, while 1.37 million high school kids smoked cigarettes. In December of 2017, one out of six high school seniors, surveyed by the University of Michigan, were found to have vaped within that month. However, 10 percent of those surveyed reported that they did not know whether they had vaped the drug nicotine. Dr. Nora Volkow, speaking with National Public Radio (NPR), states that some teens vape for the various fruit flavoring and may not actually know that the liquid flavoring is mixed with nicotine.
While marijuana use among teens has remained relatively stagnant, neither going up nor down, some have opted to vape tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound responsible for the psychoactive reaction from weed, rather than smoke it. Hash oil may contain concentrates of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, that reach up to 95 percent. For those trying the drug for the first time, such high concentrations increase the risk of adverse reactions to the drug, like temporary psychosis.
Vaping is widely understood to be a healthier alternative to cigarettes and a tool to help smokers quit. However, medical professionals continue to question the actual safety of the practice. According to the California Tobacco Control Program (Tobacco Free CA), there is no conclusive scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are effective and safe at reducing traditional cigarette use. On the other hand, teen use of vape pens may inadvertently create more tobacco-dependent individuals, especially when some teens don’t know that they are conditioning themselves to be addicted to the nicotine mixed with vaping fluids.
Furthermore, Tobacco Free CA states that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved e-cigarettes as quit-smoking devices, and no e-cigarette corporation has submitted an application for review. Irfan Rahman, a toxicologist at the University of Rochester in New York, talked with vaping patients who complained of bleeding mouths and throats, and found that the vapor from vape pens inflames mouth cells in the same way as gum disease. Rahman also generated data that the e-cigarette vapors also made it harder for cells in the lungs to heal. The FDA warns that cancer- causing chemicals, such as diethylene glycol (found in antifreeze) and formaldehyde, may also be found in e-cigarettes.
In the realm of drugs and substances, education is key. Any individual is less likely to consume or continue consuming a substance they believe is harmful. The CDC, SmokeFree Teen, and HeretoHelp are some resources for those who wish to learn more about the effects of tobacco and how to quit the drug.
The tobacco industry is crafty. Just as the glamour of smoking in the 1950s was a façade, so is the current appeal of the e-cigarette. It is up to consumers to remain aware and diligent and to not fall into the tobacco trap once again.