A long, long time ago (back in 2013) I explained to teens like you what concerned me about vaping. You can read that HERE (not much has changed, since then, except that even more young people than ever are using electronic cigarettes and vaporizers.
Since then, vaporizers have gotten sleeker and more attractive and easier to use (and easier to hide). These companies say they sell their products as a tool to quit smoking, and as a result, many people assume there is no downside to using them. Let me explain a few of the biggest mistaken beliefs that many teens (and adults) have about JUULs and similar devices.
Did you know that JUULs do contain nicotine?
I know that part of the appeal of JUULs is that they are clean and fresh. Many people are not aware that they do in fact contain nicotine. In fact, the concentration of nicotine in a JUUL pod is deliberately high enough to mimic the actual feeling of taking a deep draw on a cigarette.
Did you know that one JUUL pod on average contains the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes?
That is true. There are no JUUL pods without nicotine. Many young people have the mistaken belief that JUULs are better because they don’t want to get addicted to nicotine (see, teens are smart!) but they do not know that JUULs actually contain a pretty potent dose of nicotine.
So what exactly is the problem with nicotine anyway?
Nicotine is incredibly addictive and even more so in the teen brain. A teen can smoke the equivalent of only 3 cigarettes a week to show signs of addiction to nicotine. And the teen-brain, still undergoing rapid growth and development, can start to rewire itself after a single dose of nicotine. (you can see the problem right away if a single JUUL pod contains the equivalent of 20 cigarettes!)
One of the biggest concerns that we in the public and adolescent health community have, is that we are seeing evidence that teens who started only inhaling nicotine through vaporizers are switching to or adding tobacco-based nicotine products. Obviously, that exposes you to all the health risks we already know so much about. The NIH Monitoring the Future Survey showed that about 1 in 3 teens using e-cigarettes were likely to use a tobacco product within 6 months, compared with about 1 in 10 of non-users.
But it looks like vaporizers are safer than cigarettes, so what’s the big deal if you only vape/ JUUL / *insert your favorite electronic cigarette use verb here*?
The problem is that vaping has been around for only a decade (compared with about 150 years for cigarettes) so we simply do not have the safety or health data that will undoubtedly come from decades of inhaling what is really aerosol (not vapor at all!). Vapor alone (assuming you don’t use a form with nicotine) is not risk free either – it has small metal fragments in it from the heating coils, along with formaldehyde levels that are 7 times higher than in cigarettes, to name a few things. These cause cancer, lung damage and other health problems. In 150 years, then we can compare the health effects of vaping to that of cigarettes. None of us will be alive then to know!
I know, it’s social. And it’s always fun to pull one over on adults in your lives.
The social piece I get. But you need to know that the carefully crafted internet and social media images that show JUULing and other vaping products as social activities are deliberately crafted to convince you that they will improve your social life. Which gets me a bit to advertising. You may think you are tricking adults with using the JUUL or other stealth vapes. But you have to know that actually the flip side is true. Adults run these companies. They are using advertising and marketing tactics in promoting e-cigarettes that long ago got outlawed for cigarette companies, because these tactics were proven to increase rates of youth smoking. What kind of ad tactics? Cool and refreshing flavors is a big one. I mean, really, mango, cool cucumber, mint chocolate chip?!?! Also, advertising law and regulation is far behind for e-cigarettes compared to that for tobacco products. AND a big hole in the vaping advertising law is around internet advertising (pretty much nothing is illegal). This is why you see so much of it online, popping into your feeds, and places like that. This is not by accident. This is not just because young people like you are onto the next biggest trend. This is part of a carefully crafted marketing plan made by adults – the very age group you think you are tricking! And it is working.
I’ll stop here. This trend really worries me. I think that safety and health risks are certain. But I’ll never convince you with a head to head safety comparison of 10 years of vaping data vs 150 years of cigarette data. But I do want you to understand how e-cigarette companies depend on young people like you to buy their products to make them rich. Getting you hooked on nicotine is a bonus for them that benefits their long-term profit plan. The appealing images you see about vaping are not an accident. Don’t be fooled.