Tropical flavors and peer pressure play roles in rise of teen vaping in spite of well-known dangers

Electronic cigarettes are unsafe for kids, teens and young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarettes contain nicotine and can cause adolescent brain development issues into the early to mid-20s.

In spite of this, a dramatic rise in use of these devices by teens and college-age adults has been widely reported. Why? It could be because awareness of the health dangers is not widespread. The CDC reports that two-thirds of JUUL users between the ages of 15 to 24, are not aware that the device always contains nicotine.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and then produces an aerosol or mix of small particles in the air. It is very common to find these electronic devices tucked away in pockets, purses, and even attached to phone cases. E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes. Most have a battery, a heating element and a place to hold a liquid. Some devices look like regular cigarettes, cigars or pipes, while others look like USB flash drives, pens and other everyday items. Larger devices such as tank systems, or “mods” do not look like other tobacco products.

Known by many different names, they are sometimes called “e-cigs,” “hookahs,” “vape pens” and “vapes.” Sometimes using an e-cigarette is referred to as “vaping” or “JULLing.” Liquid used in e-cigarettes contains nicotine and flavorings. These flavors range from mint to bubblegum to mango.

“We are seeing a rise in the use of e-cigarettes due to the fact that these flavorings make the process taste good and continue to draw the user back, time and time again,” said Nancy Grant, a nurse practitioner at University Hospital, Columbia, Missouri. “A single JUUL pod contains the same amount of nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes. With individuals going through multiple pods a day, the effects of this habit can become detrimental very quickly.”

JUUL, the top selling E-Cigarette brand in the United States, is often seen being used  across MU’s campus. Students are “hitting the JUUL” during class, when they first wake up, before they go to bed and when out downtown. Chris Byers, a frequent JUUL user, and Mizzou student, states he got into using an e-cigarette “because a lot of my friends were doing it.”

Easily influenced by others, young people may feel peer-pressured into using an e-cigarette once, and then it becomes a habit.

“I never really think about the effects of using my JUUL because I am just trying to live life stress free and hitting my JUUL helps relieve my stress,” Byers said. “I would not say I am addicted, but use it more recreationally. I have friends who go through multiple pods a day, and I am not to that point in my life, yet.”

Potential problems related to the effects of e-cigarettes on the brain include disorders such as ADHD, impulse control issues and susceptibility to substance abuse.

“There is no easy way to study precisely what nicotine is doing in a teenager’s brain,” Byers said. “But research on young animals shows that it can affect brain development and interfere with learning, focus, and impulse control. It’s unfortunate that a whole generation of teenagers are basically trailblazers for the effects of nicotine on the brain and use of e-cigarettes.”

As of Nov. 20, 2019, 47 deaths and 2,290 cases of serious lung illness related to vaping, or e-cigarettes, have been reported in the media and confirmed by the CDC.

Samantha Groves, another MU student, has never used an e-cigarette.

“I have seen firsthand what tobacco products can do to a person,” she said.

“I grew up watching my grandpa smoke cigarettes every day, and when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, the damage had already been done,” Groves said. “My father also chews tobacco, and I am convinced he has a nicotine addiction and will have mouth cancer someday because of it.”

Groves is an active advocate for not using e-cigarettes and says she tries to get her friends to stop using them but can only do so much.

My friends are going to do what they want, but little do they realize how scary the effects are going to be in five or 10 years when they are even more addicted to a tiny piece of plastic than they are now,” she said.