GUVERCIN: Education critical for combating vaping epidemic
Column: The Bigger Picture
Particularly on college campuses, e-cigarettes, vapes and juuls have become some of the most common sights and have virtually eliminated the presence of traditional cigarettes. For our purposes, we can define e-cigarettes as “battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals,” including vaping tools.
Among the most popular of these tools is the juul, which is an e-cigarette that “packages nicotine salts from leaf tobacco into one-time use cartridges.”
While the hype behind e-cigarettes began as an alternative to traditional tobacco products, with the introduction of different flavors, an ever-growing user base and promotion on social media, it has come to a point of a crisis among adolescents and young adults. Within six months, 30.7% of teenage e-cigarette users start smoking other tobacco products like cigars and cigarettes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Furthermore, 7 out of 10 teenagers have been exposed to e-cigarette advertisements, which can undoubtedly influence the way it is perceived and used among them. Within the last few years, the e-cigarette user demographic has expanded to roughly 10.8 million American adults, with half of them under the age of 35 — that is almost 1 in 20 people.
So why have e-cigarettes become so prominent? Research shows that people commonly tend to believe that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to cigarettes, and the name vape itself causes some people to believe that they are actually ingesting only water vapor.
Others believe that it is an effective way for smokers to quit, and the fact that they can come in different flavors like cherry, mint or cotton candy subconsciously appeals to younger users and does not seem as harsh as regular tobacco cigarettes.
Moreover, juuls have especially grown in popularity, with some attribution to the fact that many users do not realize that a single pod, which seems like a very miniscule amount, actually contains roughly the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
If we look at the facts, it is easy to recognize that many of these claims are incorrect and that such misconceptions are the biggest reasons why these nicotine-rich products are so pervasive.
Vape cigarettes are certainly not “just water,” according to research done by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. They contain aerosols, flavorants and small particles that can be inhaled into the lungs.
Furthermore, the chemicals found in these aerosols and flavorants increase the potential for liver damage and can even accrue in the retina, causing problems in eyesight such as potential blindness. They also pollute the air.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that they are healthier alternatives to cigarettes and can even help smokers quit. Countless studies have shown that e-cigarettes are in fact addictive due to a high nicotine concentration, and most of the time, smokers actually just end up using both cigarettes and e-cigarettes, which significantly threatens their health.
The simple fact that these products are flavored has had an impact on user demographics, as numbers show that in 2017-2018, there had been a 78% increase in the number of high school students who use e-cigarettes, with the majority of them specifically using flavored products.
As the scientific and medical communities have dedicated more time and research into this epidemic, several legal actions have taken place in order to combat some of its social effects and prevalence. Earlier this month, New York implemented a temporary ban on most flavors of e-cigarettes due to “urgent action” needed to diminish the number of adolescents using vapes.
The efforts have gone as far as imposing fines on users, putting a 20% tax on e-cigarettes and promoting police action against sellers who cater to underaged users. Michigan had also banned the sale of e-cigarettes prior to New York’s enactment, and even the President Donald J. Trump administration has shown efforts to enforce policies that remove flavored e-cigarette products off of retailer shelves, according to CNN.
Personally, I am not sure that banning e-cigarettes altogether is the most prudent way of combating this growing crisis, but I do believe educating users, teenagers and parents about the effects of e-cigarettes debunk many of the misconceptions that are commonly associated with them. It can be an effective method to, at the very least, spread awareness and help promote a nicotine and drug-free lifestyle.
In order to combat aversive effects, e-cigarette manufacturers can also be more transparent about the way their products are produced, what they contain and what health risks they may pose.
In educating ourselves and others around us who use such harmful products, we can potentially overcome even larger hurdles, like influencing school-aged kids and young adults to make better choices regarding their health.
Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double majoring in philosophy and psychology. Her column, "The Bigger Picture," runs on alternate Fridays.
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