What was once marketed as a safe smoking cessation product has caused considerable concern for many, especially with youth, where the trend of vaping has reached nearly every school in the nation including Alcona Community Schools.
Vaping is using an electronic delivery system (ENDS or e-cigarette) where a person inhales vaporized aerosol products called e-juice or e-liquid, according to Mike Maturen, a substance abuse prevention specialist for Up North Prevention, an initiative of Catholic Human Services.
Maturen has been visiting local school districts to explain the dangers of youth vaping to teachers and parents. Vaping is also called Juuling (pronounced jeweling). Juul is a popular ENDS product used among youth.
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Maturen explained many people incorrectly believe vaping devices produce a water vapor when, in fact, they create aerosols which contain harmful chemicals and ultra-fine particles which are inhaled into the lungs and out into the environment, causing secondhand effects. Many e-cigarettes contain nicotine, including Juul.
“Vaping among our youth has increased at a meteoric rate,” Maturen said. “I believe this is because companies are marketing directly at our youth. They sell flavors which appeal to kids such as mint, candy, fruit or chocolate. They sell ‘kid-friendly’ vape pens or a USB flash drive designed for concealment. Why are they marketing to kids? That’s easy -- money. They are creating the next generation of nicotine addicts.”
According to Maturen, each pre-filled pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. The vapor is often odorless, which makes it difficult to detect its use. Because Juuling puts off significantly less vapor than other e-cigarettes it is very discrete, and some kids are vaping right in the classroom and blow the odorless smoke into shirt sleeves or backpacks while the teacher’s back is turned.
“In bathrooms, they will hide a vape pen or flash drive inside a toilet paper roll for the next student to try it. It’s hard to detect. Juul puts off a sweet, fruity smell which is easily mistaken for perfume or hair product,” Maturen said.
He explained that Vape devices use a small battery which have exploded while a person is inhaling the vape causing great injury. Also concerning, is the devices can be modified to vape marijuana.
“The THC levels found in marijuana concentrates and oil used in vaping devices are incredibly high, at least two to four times higher than plant use. The higher the concentration of THC, the higher the likelihood of addiction and adverse medical consequences,” Maturen said.
He warned of chemicals in vapes which can cause serious health concerns such as popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans), a severe and irreversible respiratory disorder. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, chemical concerns were identified in common e-cigarette flavors, including the buttery compound which was once found in microwave popcorn, Diacetyl.
Diacetyl was linked to deaths and hundreds of cases of popcorn lung. As a result, the major popcorn manufacturers removed Diacetyl from their products, but it is now found in flavorings of e-cigarettes.
Popcorn lung is the scarring of tiny air sacs in the lungs which causes thick and narrow airways. It is a serious lung disease causing symptoms similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. “Popcorn lung is a stage four irreversible lung disease currently only treatable by a lung transplant,” Maturen said.
Other risks of vaping can include ear, eye and throat irritation, weakened immune system, damage to gums and mouth, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, headaches, dizziness, agitation, insomnia and disease through secondhand vapor exposure. Vaping can cause mood disorders and permanent problems with impulse control which can cause failure to fight an urge or impulse that may harm oneself or others, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
There is also evidence that adjusting the heating element to a higher range converts the propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin in e-cigarette to formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. Both chemicals suspected to be carcinogenic specifically when inhaled into the lungs. Other by-products of heated e-cigarettes can include ethylene glycol (antifreeze); benzene (auto exhaust) and heavy metals such as tin and zinc, according to the American Lung Association.
Teenage years are critical for brain development which continues until the age of 25. Nicotine affects the development of the brain’s reward system. It is widely believed that continued vaping can lead to nicotine addiction and make other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine more pleasurable to a teenager’s developing brain.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration law, purchasers of nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, must be at least 18 years of age. However, according to Maturen, accessibility to purchase vapes is relatively easy for youth with products being sold in stores, gas stations and online.
Underage users simply ask someone 18 or older to purchase the product for them or acquire the product through resale sources such as Craigslist or eBay which do not require stringent identification match and age verification technology.
According to the Surgeon General, children begin experimenting with vaping, tobacco, alcohol and marijuana at young ages, so it is important to start conversations early and continue them throughout their high school and early college years.
According to Maturen, youth who use substances are more likely to have problems in school, with the law, their health and forming healthy relationships. It is important that parents and mentors let them know there are consequences to substance use both in terms of their own health and for breaking parental expectations.
“Parents and grandparents need to be concerned about vaping among youth. This is a relatively new industry and is still being studied. Long term health consequences are still unknown, but these devices are not harmless. There are not enough studies out there to consider vaping safe.”
What are parents and grandparents to do if they suspect youth of vaping? Maturen said the best way to approach them is by simply sitting down and having an honest discussion with them, “Ask them what they know about vaping. Ask them if they know anyone who vapes. Discuss the dangers. Most of all be a parent, not a friend.”
“If your son or daughter is vaping and doesn’t know how to stop, speak to your child’s healthcare provider. They may have resources to help smoking cessation. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin, there are likely to be some withdrawal effects – just as there is with cigarettes. Be there to support them through the process,” he said.