By Zippy Spanjer, Contributing Writer
Hey, kid! Want a nicotine addiction? No? What if I made it taste like mango?
The original purpose of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) was to create a cleaner way to use nicotine without inhaling tobacco. E-cig companies marketed their product as a tobacco-cessation resource. Makes sense, right? After all, tobacco damages the lungs, throat, mouth, tongue…basically, any cell that comes into contact with tobacco smoke is at high risk for damage. Even secondhand smoke exposure can be dangerous.
E-cigs became popular in the U.S. in 2004. As of 2018, more than 10 million Americans use e-cigs, and about half of those also smoke traditional cigarettes. Adult cigarette smoking in the US has decreased by 4% since 2004 — from 64.4 million smokers to 52.4 million. At first glance, it would seem that e-cigs are fulfilling their original purpose.
However, with a deeper look into the statistics and facts, e-cigs show to be more harmful than helpful in the goal of cessation. According to the National Institute of Health, 9.5% of eighth graders, 14% of tenth graders, and 11.4% of twelfth graders use e-cigs. These numbers are almost twice the percentage of those who smoke traditional cigarettes in each group. And teens who use e-cigs are more than three times as likely to switch from e-cigs to cigarette smoking within six months of beginning e-cigarette use.
An additional factor that contributes to the popularity of e-cigs in teenagers is the lack of proper education on the issue. Over 70% of teens who vape either think there is nothing but flavoring in the e-cig, or don’t know what is in them at all. Teenagers will use e-cigs when they won’t smoke cigarettes because they don’t understand the risks.
What are the risks? Human brains are not fully developed until about age 25. Nicotine affects the parts of the brain that govern memory, self-control, decision-making, and concentration. Prolonged nicotine consumption can cause infertility, diabetes, respiratory failure, and obesity. Adolescent exposure to nicotine also increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders later in life, and adolescents who use nicotine are more vulnerable to developing addictions. Most e-cigs have much more nicotine per unit than cigarettes.
As if these were not enough consequences, e-cigs also contain many other ingredients and their effects have not been fully investigated. Several common ingredients in e-cigs are toxic to lung function when vaporized, and studies have shown that e-cig use can cause DNA damage in lung tissue. Switching from traditional cigarettes to e-cig simply replaces one long list of health risks with another.
While you must be 18 years old to purchase nicotine products in person, e-cigs can also be purchased online. JUUL, a popular e-cig company, requires that a buyer prove themself to be 21 years old or older in order to purchase products online. However – and I investigated this myself – their verification process is easy to work around if you are under the minimum age.
As the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. For years, doctors, politicians, schools, and dozens of organizations have dedicated themselves to educating the public about the risks of smoking cigarettes through endless campaigns and curricula. A Google search for “how to quit smoking” will yield millions of results. And yet, in the midst of this wave of anti-cigarette activism, e-cigs are pulling millions of people back onto a dangerous path.