A sharp spike in vaping and the use of e-cigarettes by students has grabbed the attention of school administrators and school police officers.
The rapid spread of the fad was flagged in a 2016 report from the US surgeon general. It cited a 900% increase in e-cigarette use by high school students from 2011 to 2015, and the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey noted that 1.7 million high school students said they had used e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days. For middle school students, the number was 500,000.
Now, the alarming trend is prompting concerns that some companies are taking direct aim at teenagers by tailoring and marketing e-cigarettes and vaping products to younger users.
The 2017 results of Monitoring the Future are in and the numbers show an alarming trend in e-cigarette use. 47,703 students from 360 public and private schools participate in the survey conducted by researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, under a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Nearly 1 in 3 students in 12th-grade report past-year use of e-vaporizers in 2017, raising concerns about the impact on their long-term health. Here is how e-cigarette use broke down by grade level: 8th grade: 13.3%; 10th grade: 23.9%; and 12th grade: 27.8%. The survey also asked students what they thought was in the e-vaporizer mist the last time they smoked. 25.1% of the 8th graders, 32.8% of the 10th graders, and 11.1% of the 12th graders thought their vaping liquid contained nicotine. The newest and most popular vaping devices, such as the JUUL, Phix, or Soren contain pure nicotine. One pod (200 puffs) contain the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Nearly a tenth of the students, 8-12th grade, believed their device contained marijuana oil. The vast majority believed their devices contained a harmless flavoring: 8th grade: 74.8%; 10th grade: 59.2%; and 12th grade: 51.8%.
Another disturbing trend is the rise of marijuana use juxtaposed against the decrease of traditional cigarette use. Since 1992, there has been a significant decline in daily cigarette use among 12th graders, while the rate of daily marijuana use has increased. In its peak year (1997), daily cigarette use among 12th grades was 24.6 percent, compared to a rate of 4.2 percent in 2017. In its lowest year of use (1992), daily use of marijuana among 12th graders was 1.9 percent, compared to a rate of 5.9 percent in 2017.
Teen's low perception of harm coupled with a general message of acceptance is a driving force in their decision to try vaping or marijuana. In Washington State's 2016 Health Youth Survey, 10th graders were asked if they had used marijuana in the last 30 days. 10th graders who said they lived in a home with a clear non-use message, only 13% used marijuana. Homes where students were told smoking marijuana was not wrong, the number jumped to 59%. Likewise, students who believe the community norm is that it is wrong for them to use marijuana, 16% used in the last 30 days. When students believed the community norm was that marijuana use was not wrong, 37% of that population used in the last 30 days. The message parents present to their children is critical in shaping a child's decision to use drugs, alcohol, or vaping devices.
What is a JUUL, Soren, or Phix?
In just two years on the market, JUUL, a new type of e-cigarette, has become so popular among young people that it has already amassed nearly half of the e-cigarette market share. The product’s quick rise in popularity prompted The Boston Globe to call it “the most widespread phenomenon you’ve likely never heard of.” In addition to the JUUL, other popular vaping devices are constantly appearing on the market, including the Soren and Phix devices.
How do the JUUL and similar devices work?
JUUL devices heat up a cartridge containing oils to create vapor, which quickly dissolves into the air. The device is small enough to fit in a closed fist and has a sleek, tech-inspired design that resembles a USB flash drive. While its manufacturer says that JUUL is only for adults, it comes in flavors — including mint, mango and crème brulee — which are proven to appeal to young people and facilitate initiation of tobacco product use. A single JUUL cartridge is roughly equal to a pack of cigarettes, or 200 cigarette puffs.
How to talk to your child about vaping
The following are talking points to include in a discussion you should have with your child about smoking vaping devices and other tobacco products.
1. Nicotine is addictive and harmful. JUUL, Soren, Phix, and other similar contain nicotine.
“The effects include the release of epinephrine, which is like adrenaline, and activates the sympathetic nervous system, the so-called flight-or-fight system,” said Dr. Robert Millman, an addiction expert at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “It raises the heart rate, increases blood pressure, increases cardiac output and constricts blood vessels. All those things lead to long-term hypertension and heart diseases like congestive heart failure and arrhythmias.”
“The dangers of nicotine may not relate so much to cancer of the lung,” which is tied to tars and other cigarette residues, explained Dr. Millman, the Saul P. Steinberg Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health, “but it does relate to heart attacks and cardiovascular accidents, or strokes.”
It is hard to separate the highly addictive drug nicotine from the very efficient delivery system embodied in the JUUL.
“Rapidly acting drugs are generally more addictive than those that act more slowly,” Dr. Millman said. “The effects are felt almost instantaneously and wear off quickly, powerfully reinforcing the tendency to want to do it again and again and again.”
A tolerance also develops, so that more and more of the drug is needed to get the same effect, he said, and then there is the withdrawal syndrome, which with nicotine is associated with psychological problems like depression.
The teen years are critical for brain development, which continues into young adulthood. Young people who use nicotine products in any form, including e-cigarettes, are uniquely at risk for long-lasting effects. Because nicotine affects the development of the brain's reward system, continued e-cigarette use can not only lead to nicotine addiction, but it also can make other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine more pleasurable to a teen's developing brain.
Nicotine also affects the development of brain circuits that control attention and learning. Other risks include mood disorders and permanent problems with impulse control—failure to fight an urge or impulse that may harm oneself or others.
2. Smoking vaping devices increases the likelihood of smoking cigarettes in the future
A major national study on electronic cigarettes reportedly finds evidence that vaping can lead to nicotine addiction and may prompt teenagers to switch to cigarette smoking.
A CDC study found in 2016 that among e-cigarette users ages 18 to 24, 40 percent had never smoked a cigarette before taking up vaping. The study found that the majority of e-cigarette users overall also smoked cigarettes.
3. It is not harmless water vapor
Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, recently released a study measuring metal levels in this aerosol.
The research found chromium, nickel, zinc and lead, Navas-Acien said. "Comparing what was initially in the liquid, that was very, very tiny amount (of lead) practically undetectable. But after the e-liquid was heated through the e-cigarette device, lead levels were then 25 times higher," she said. "There is no safe level of lead." Without standard regulations requiring uniform warning labels, people aren't always fully aware of what they're consuming.
What parents can do to protect their children
1. Monitor your child's social media.
Every part of your child's life intersects in their social media. It is imperative that parents engage in their child's digital world. Here are some suggestions on how to do that:
- Attend a Cyber Safety Cop parent seminar near you to learn about what is going on in your child's digital world and practical steps to make them safe.
- Follow the parenting plan outlined in Parenting in the Digital World: A Step-by-Step Guide to Internet Safety.
- Use OpenDNS.com to filter inappropriate website from being accessed on your home internet connection.
- Know all of your child’s usernames and passwords to their phone and all of their online accounts.
- Log in to your child’s email account and search for online purchases
- Using your child's username and password, log in to their social media accounts, like Instagram, as them on your phone.
- Install a parental control and notification app on your child's device like Websafety.
- Charge your child's mobile devices in your room at night.
2. Prevent your child from purchasing vaping devices from online stores
- Protect your computer's password.
- Protect your credit card number. Check your statement for online purchases.
- Do not give VISA gift cards to your child.
- Get notifications of package deliveries by signing up for UPS My Choice, FedEx Delivery Manager, and USPS Informed Delivery.
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Ray, C. C. (2008, September 15). How Does Nicotine, Without Tobacco, Affect the Body? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/16/health/16qna.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Electronic Cigarettes (E-cigarettes). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes
Truth Initiative. (2018, May 07). What is JUUL? Retrieved from https://truthinitiative.org/news/what-is-juul
Selig, R. (2018, April 06). Vaping now an epidemic among US high schoolers. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/06/health/high-schools-vaping-epidemic/index.html
Anapol, A. (2018, January 23). Study: Vaping can lead teens to cigarette smoking. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/news-by-subject/healthcare/370272-national-study-finds-that-vaping-can-lead-teens-to-cigarette