Vaping: The new cigarette?


Sierra Dixon

A person blows smoke from her vape into the night. Vaping has become a habit for many young people, raising concerns within the health community.

A student sits in third period, desperately waiting for class to end. The boredom grows, as well as some unexplainable bounce in his leg. Is the student hungry, needs a break to stand? The bell finally rings, and he walks briskly to the nearest bathroom, finding an empty stall and bringing his vape to his lips simultaneously. The anxiety dissipates, his racing heart slows and he breathes a sigh of relief.

This is the routine for many adolescents, especially in schools. The growing vape epidemic has raced to the top of the headline page for nearly every news and research organization. The real question is, how did it get this bad so fast, why is vaping so trendy and why can’t adolescents stop?

One student, senior Amelia Anderson*, shares her story with vaping–her journey from the first breath to the last cough. She began at the beginning of her junior year, trying a vape for the first time because everybody had told her the trend was harmless, not to mention her best friend participated in the fad.

“My best friend had bought a vape and I always wanted to try one, but I wouldn’t consider my start of vaping to be peer pressure,” Anderson said, “I just wanted to live a little in high school and enjoyed the feeling until I realized that an addiction was developing.”

It is known that one JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, and the highly addictive substance takes hold quickly, especially to teens who are not knowledgeable or simply want to try the substance one or two times without realizing that they will be coming back more frequently for months to come.

“I consider myself previously addicted,” Anderson said. “I was very reliant on vaping for seven or eight months and realized I would vape before each class period and a lot after school. It just became a big problem; I noticed mood changes without a source of nicotine, and it affected my breathing (that) I have a feeling is irreversible.”

Anderson is one of many teens in this situation. How did the vaping crisis become so widespread so quickly?

Within one year, the rates of 18 to 21-year-olds who vaped increased by 400 percent, and researchers are struggling to identify the root of the problem. Many studies claim that the reason for this sudden jump was primarily because of the flavors that entice young people to smoke, as well as the reviving of the “smoking culture” that was around during the 1960s and ‘70s.

“In the past two years, the regular vaping rates increased from 27 percent usage to 38 percent usage in just 17 and 18-year-olds,” health coach and registered nurse at Cone Health Kim Broome said.

Nicotine in these devices takes hold of the consumer quickly, as the teens who participate show symptoms similar to those of cigarettes from years ago. Similar practices are being used to aid in the cessation of vaping because of the parallelism that is being seen when compared to cigarettes.

“Switching to vaping is not in our guidelines for recommendations to patients attempting to come off cigarettes,” nurse practitioner at the Wake Forest Medical Center Athena Brummett said.

Instead of using vaping as a way to wean from cigarette or tobacco use, many medical professionals recommend prescription medication.

“To be able to stop vaping, a nicorette or a patch would be able to help,” Broome said. “The same thing (is true) with Wellbutrin medication that people use to stop smoking, which is for addictive personalities.”

Even short term usage of an apparatus can have consequences for longer than many believe, and Anderson touches upon her own experience, detailing that for her it seemed impossible to quit, and affected her other daily tasks–such as playing in the band–because of her shortened breath and attention span without nicotine.

“As someone who has not even vaped for a full year, you can get addicted to nicotine immediately; I realized I would become more irritable towards people unless I was able to get a source of nicotine, and my breathing was affected during band, as well.””

The negative impacts do not simply stop at breathing and mood changes, however. Recent studies have shown that young adults in their 20s have picked up vaping as a way to cope with stressors in their lives. This is potentially even more harmful than the adolescent trend because many of these young adult couples who vape are beginning families of their own, and vaping can have detrimental impacts on unborn children.

“Vaping is essentially the same as smoking; if a pregnant woman smokes or uses nicotine, it constricts blood flow to the fetus, babies’ birth weight is lower and they are likely to be NICU admission babies, many of which are prone to have feeding or respiratory issues,” Brummett said.

The detrimental impacts go beyond even health risks and reach even psychological levels. Broome recalls a story in which a man began to panic because he could not find (and subsequently use) his vape in the hospital when they were supposed to be going over important information about his newborn baby.

“His addiction was his concern over his new baby,” Broome said.

The effects of vaping do not just impact the user, but also their families. This leads to a continuing effect of influence, primarily on younger members of the family, as Anderson relates.

“I first knew about vaping when I saw my mom was trying to quit smoking; she used one of the first e-cigarettes that came out when I was probably 11 or 12,” Anderson said.

It is true vaping was created as a way to ease adults off of smoking. The aerosol inhaled through electronic cigarettes is 95 percent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, according to an expert independent review published by Public Health England. Hundreds of thousands of adults, including Anderson’s own parent, took a step toward ending their cigarette habit by switching to vapes.

“Turning to vapor products as a convenient and effective alternative might save (the smokers’) lives; however, nobody actually knows the long-term effects,” Charles Johnson*, an adult smoker of 20 years said. “Consider that the rise in lung cancer rates trailed a corresponding rise in smoking rates by two decades; the point is that nobody may know for a long time which is better.”

Johnson states while it is unknown which is truly less harmful–smoking or vaping–his four-month time period being cigarette-free has been a relief thanks to the new e-cigarette options available. Many are in the same position where smoking cigarettes (due to the smell especially) is a hindrance on their daily professional and personal lives; vaping truly does become a positive and convenient alternative.

Therefore, why do we as a society weigh the negative effects on young people greater against the relief-bringing positive results seen in cigarette smokers?

One answer is that many teens do not use vapes as they were intended, thus leading to the extreme results that have been observed. An aspect of vaping that has begun to gain steam is the use of black market pods or carts that contain THC chemical within them, allowing the user to get a high in addition to the regular nicotine buzz. In research thus far, it seems as though this has been the case for many of the deaths recorded.

“Several vaping deaths appear to be tied to vaping THC, and there is a focus on vitamin E acetate as the potential culprit,” Johnson said.

Teens abusing the intended purpose of the vapes is resulting in tighter constraints on the availability of the products to adult smokers who truly need them and are trying to get off. Additionally, it creates an entirely new problem relating to the increasing marijuana usage rates when it comes to law enforcement.

“The concentration of THC in these (vape cartridge) oils runs at a much higher number than marijuana grown by an average grower,” Thomasville city police officer Jeff McCrary said. “I think it’s a lot more potent and the effects are much higher, which is probably attracting teens to it honestly.”

There seems to be no end in sight for how to stop the inappropriate use of teen and young adult vaping while also maintaining the original purpose: the switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes. The fad of vaping may just be another trend that dies down in a few years, but may also be a health crisis that persists for 20 or 30 years, similar to the cigarette era.

“I do believe this is an epidemic that we’re seeing with teens and vaping,” Brummett said. “ I couldn’t even give a positive as to why anyone should start.”

*Name has been changed