Hollis, NH — "I’m fully accepting with the fact that I’m addicted," says Cameron MacDonald, 18, a student at the University of New Hampshire.
MacDonald started vaping four years ago. He says he picked up his first vape pen because he felt peer pressured. Later that year, he says, “The addiction kicked in.”
MacDonald is just one of 2 million kids and teens across the U.S. use e-cigarettes, according to a survey by the Associated Press. These near-epidemic levels have prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin cracking down on the distribution of e-cigarette products. To counter the rise of teenage vaping, the FDA has threatened to ban the use of flavored vaping products. The government is also looking at measures, such as regulating the toxicity of vape products, increasing education campaigns, and warning retailers directly of legal consequences that will come with selling to people underage.
Once cigarette use was linked to cancer in the mid-nineties, student cigarette smoking has steadily declined. But electronic cigarettes or vaping products have stepped in the fill the gap. While many of e-cigarette products advertise to people trying to quit cigarettes, it seems that they have attracted a different audience--teenagers.
Juuls, in particular, are a craze among young people. The item, itself, is a concentrated nicotine vaporizer, the size of a USB drive. It delivers the same nicotine-rush that frequent cigarette smokers enjoy, without the ash, or nose-wrinkling smell. Instead, a person can get their nicotine fix all the while holding a sleek looking device that smells and tastes like candy. Consumers choose between flavors like mint, mango, peanut butter, and butter toffee. These ‘juul pods’ can be bought at most chain convenience stores, and even some local corner stores.
If you Google the question, “Are Juul’s safer than cigarettes?” there are mixed results. Some sites claim that Juul is a ‘clean’ way to get a nicotine fix, others make the case that juuling is more addictive, and with a higher level of carcinogens.
Flip the packaging of a juul pod over, and buyers will see a fairly short list of ingredients, including glycerol, propylene glycerol, flavor, nicotine, and benzoic acid. While juuls contain fewer toxic compounds, but the nicotine within a juul has N-Nitrosonornicotine, a carcinogen. A juul inhalation also contains acrylonitrile, a toxic liquid used in the production of plastics as well as adhesives, and synthetic rubbers.
“Many see [vaping] as safer than smoking, and while there are less chemicals found in the vapor they inhale, there is still nicotine, which is the same highly addictive ingredient found in traditional cigarettes,” said Jane Goodman, manager of Breathe New Hampshire, a nonprofit that specializes in lung disease. Goodman is especially concerned about teen vaping, because teens are more susceptible to nicotine addiction, given their still-developing brains.
“We really discourage youth from trying e-cigarettes as they are highly addictive and we still do not have enough research to really understand the other detrimental long term effects they will have on youth,” Goodman said. “We know nicotine addiction is difficult to quit, so why take the chance with this new nicotine delivery system?”
Because e-cigarettes and vapes are relatively new, the health effects are not well understood. Not enough time has passed for longitudinal studies on consequences of vaping. However, researchers in Denmark found that short-term damage to the lungs from vaping resembles that of smoking a cigarette. A separate study from the University of California, San Francisco, found that many vape products include carcinogenic chemicals, making teens more susceptible to cancer. For teens struggling with vaping addictions, however, the studies cannot come out fast enough. “I don’t think it’s good for me. If I had a button that said ‘hey, you can quit right now,’ I would,” said MacDonald.