It’s been more than half-a-century since the world caught on to the idea that smoking is bad for your health. Despite this knowledge, the tobacco industry is still booming in some parts of the world, though something else is happening in the United States. In the U.S., companies have created a new product to entice ex-smokers and new ones: e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are marketed as alternatives to traditional cigarettes that can quell smokers’ urges for nicotine without the cancer-causing addition of tobacco. Unfortunately, little is known as of yet about the long-term effects of these devices, even as more and more young people become enticed by their novelty and alleged safety.
Emma Clary is a high school student who only started using e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” a few years ago. She knows that smoking cigarettes is bad for her and she’s seen the effect smoking has had on her own mother, so she’s understandably wary of it. Only, she sees vaping as something different, a way to relieve stress and feel the brief high without feeling as if she’s doing herself any harm.
E-Cigarettes are battery-powered devices that work by heating up liquid-based nicotine into a vapor and Emma isn’t the only one using them. Today, more than 2 million middle school, high school, and college teens are vaping, making e-cigarettes the most popular tobacco product among this demographic.
One of the most popular brands of these e-cigarettes is Juul, which offers a multitude of different and enticing flavors. Yet variety isn’t the only reason for Juul’s popularity. Another reason is the company markets toward a younger demographic. The facts, however, show that vaping isn’t as healthy as it’s thought to be.
This isn’t mere conjecture, either. Federal health officials have weighed in on this issue as well. As far as they and other health experts are concerned, there is ample cause for worry about young people. Vaping came about just as smoking rates declined yet the risks may still outweigh the benefits.
Likely to Smoke
This is because young adults who use e-cigarettes are four times as likely to begin smoking tobacco. This is within 18 months of them starting to vape. According to teens who vape, it is the quick head rush they get from the surge of nicotine that draws them most to the habit. That, and because their friends do it.
Bigger Head Rush
In Emma’s case, the whole addiction started as something of a lark. She loved the rush she got from the nicotine, which eventually became a necessity. Now, like so many of her peers, Emma vapes whenever and wherever she can. In the schoolyard, the bathroom, even the classroom if she needs it. It’s become something of an epidemic.
If it’s not quite at epidemic levels yet, teen vaping is rapidly looking to become one in the near future – at least as far as public health advocates are concerned. The one thing that they and federal lawmakers can’t seem to agree on, however, is how to rein in the rapidly booming e-cigarette industry.
As those agencies try to find solutions, some professionals are looking to cultivate a deeper understanding of why teens are taking so readily to this new, potentially harmful hobby. It could be that teens are almost always drawn to do things that the adults in their lives consider to be “bad for them,” if only to rebel against authority.
Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow recently spoke to USA Today on the subject. He said that teens begin vaping as a way to satisfy an oral fixation – something that hearkens back to childhood and only returns when parental separation begins in earnest, i.e., in your teens. Child psychologist Melissa Sporn (pictured) suggested that vaping was a way of self-medicating to eliminate stress.
Whatever the reason, it doesn’t stop hundreds of thousands of children at risk of developing serious nicotine addictions at a very impressionable age in terms of mental development. Nicotine has been proven to rewire the brains of adolescents and can affect much of how these kids will behave in later years; especially if they fail to kick the habit.
Agencies have developed something of a plan to deal with the more than half a million public comments about the vaping epidemic. Currently being bandied about is whether or not they can reasonably restrict or ban the different flavorings offered by e-cigarette companies. There are other things they’d like to address as well.
They are also investigating youth marketing by Juul, which seems somewhat reminiscent of defunct cigarette icon Joe Camel. They also take issue with the size of the e-cigarettes. Juul e-cigs are particularly small, about the size of a flash drive and are therefore easy for teens to hide away from authorities who might wish them not to smoke in some places – school for example.
The argument is that some companies have worked fast and loose in utter defiance of FDA regulations and authority. For their part, San Francisco-based Juul has come out openly to explain that they are working their hardest to keep their products away from underage vapors. They have even taken action against those retailers who have sold their e-cigarettes to minors.
How Do You Sell to Kids?
Recently, the FDA put their money where their mouth was by asking four e-cigarette companies about why their products might be appealing to young people. Their goal is to take action against these companies should they learn anything telling. They also plan to take additional measures to inform young people about the dangers of vaping…
The FDA plans on creating a campaign targeting over 10 million minors who either vape already or who have stated they’re open to trying it. This will be similar to the Truth campaigns of a few years ago that speak of the dangers of smoking. Likewise, this campaign will help in educating young people who think vaping is “no big deal.”
A Whole Generation
Their concern is that e-cigarettes could addict a whole generation before they end up heading it off at the pass. There is, as the FDA puts it, a narrow window of opportunity to address the burgeoning epidemic. By their reckoning, regulating flavor is the first step to eliminating their attractiveness to teens.
E-cigarette companies have until 2022 to go through a rigorous FDA approval process if they wish to remain on the market. It may seem like a reasonable amount of time, but for many of these companies, it is a serious challenge and far less time than they would actually need to meet the requirements.
Thankfully, it also seems that the e-cigarette companies are doing enough to dissuade teens on their own – at least when it comes to cost, anyway. Emma Clary, the teen vaper from the start of our story, has said herself that it’s an expensive addiction and that Juul pods, in particular, are prohibitively expensive for a young person.
Bans on The Horizon
In August of 2018, Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski or Arkansas announced that they planned to introduce a bill to regulate e-cigarette flavorings. This is in line with regulation methods the FDA had spoken of earlier. This bill would give e-cigarette manufacturers a year to hand over evidence that their flavorings are perfectly safe.
Regardless of the efforts of the FDA and like-minded senators, it seems unlikely that this bill will pass anytime soon. Such a bill would be restricted to trade. Nevertheless, it does send a message that they mean business and that those e-cigarette companies should watch themselves.