Mixed in with the pens, erasers and index cards stuffed in your child’s backpack, and barely noticeable among all the school supplies, is the newest addiction among the teen population. You may wonder what this strange device that’s no larger than a flash drive is. Well, it’s an electronic cigarette, more commonly known as an e-cig.
Over the past several decades, federal and public policy efforts have been implemented that significantly decreased public consumption of tobacco products. While the consumption of traditional combustible cigarettes has decreased thanks in large part to these public health measures, the usage and consumption of these newer e-cigs is on the rise.
So what exactly are e-cigs? They’re small, portable electronic devices initially intended to help adults stop smoking cigarettes — but that have become a mark of teenage coolness. Most are a few inches long, with a simple design that includes a mouthpiece, cartridge and body that holds a rechargeable battery. It’s easy to overlook any of these devices among your teen’s belongings, even if they’re “recharging” their device in their flash drive, right in front of your eyes.
E-cigs were initially intended as a way for cigarette users to curb their craving for nicotine. Instead of inhaling the vapors and byproducts of the combustible cigarette, the e-cigarette delivers less nicotine and instead delivers flavors and substances in vapor form, in specially designed pods available for purchase. They’ve developed a cult following among adolescents, with some studies reporting up to 40 percent of teenagers having used an electronic cigarette at least once.
What’s so appealing to teenagers, exactly, about these particular devices? A quick look at their websites might reveal the answer. Many feature pictures of gummy bears, vanilla ice cream with sprinkles and a healthy dose of sex appeal. A search for the most popular flavor pods reveals names such as smurf cake, cotton candy and unicorn milk. None of the websites displayed the other ingredients found in this flavored smoke. Digging a little deeper, however, revealed that the vapor cloud emitted from these devices was producing toxic substances such as cyanide, benzene, formaldehyde, methanol, tar and carbon monoxide. The harmful effects of these compounds are well-known. And in addition to nicotine and these other harmful compounds, some flavored cartridges deliver cannabis. In the developing adolescent brain, nicotine alone possesses the same addictive effect as heroin or cocaine. All of the above chemicals are known to destroy the healthy pathways in the brain that lead to critical thinking, attention and problem solving. What’s more, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a full 66 percent of adolescents thought that the only thing they were inhaling in their e-cigs was flavoring.
Recent studies show that vaping in a child who has never smoked increases the likelihood of using cigarettes and cannabis later in life. After decades of curbing underage tobacco use, these e-cigs are helping to exponentially create a new generation of tobacco and cannabis users. It’s no surprise, then, that the Food and Drug Administration recently got involved, forbidding the advertising of these harmful substances to children.
Without this oversight, e-cigs could be on their way to becoming socially acceptable. They produce no combustible smoke, and they look cool — the millennial version of the “candy cigarette.” So, what can you do to help stop this alarming trend?
First, find out if your child has tried or is currently using these devices. Be aware of how a flash drive looks versus a rechargeable battery. Talk about the dangers of using these products and of these toxic substances that the vapor produces. Tell them about the effect it has on their developing brain. Find out why they’re using these devices; is it a stress response or perhaps a way to fit in? Help them find healthy ways to manage their stress or to find a group of peers they don’t have to impress. Explain to them that it’s often a gateway to other more harmful substances. And be aware of your own stress responses, and find ways as a family to have healthy responses to stress, such as exercising or reading, rather than taking a drag of an e-cig.
Let’s all band together and keep our youth safe from this rising and dangerous new addiction.
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