E-cigarettes Through the Eyes of a Loudoun County Teen
Walk into any high school or middle school bathroom. Do you smell something fruity? Something minty? That’s not air freshener. Our school bathrooms have turned into Juul Rooms. The administrators sometimes even lock the bathrooms because so many kids are vaping in there. Those sleek black objects that resemble USB flash drives are actually Juuls, also known as vapes and e-cigarettes. And they are a growing epidemic. I have far too many peers who are so dependent on nicotine they cannot go a full school day or even a whole class without their fix. I have even seen classmates so emboldened by the “everyone does it” claim that it is not uncommon to see someone vaping in class. Even in AP classes where so many of the students look down upon drugs and alcohol, I have seen someone take a hit of mango flavored nicotine. It isn’t even shocking for me to look to my left during a test and see someone take a hit off their Juul and then just blow the vapor down their shirt when the teacher is looking away.
This demonstrates how hooked an entire generation has become. But my peers do not see it as a problem. Yes, they are aware they are addicts, but what’s the harm? It’s not like they are addicted to yesterday’s “coffin nails.” Teens today are turned off of cigarettes because we know it causes lung, throat, and several other types of cancer. But people blame the problems on the smoke produced from the cigarettes, not the actual nicotine. So e-cigarettes can be easily dismissed, mistakenly thinking they won’t hurt anybody. Despite the common view, vapes contain harmful chemicals in addition to nicotine. Ultrafine particles are inhaled deep into the lungs. These include flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease; volatile compounds such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead. Maybe it’s because there hasn’t been the same level of condemning evidence of e-cigarettes’ potent side effects. But still, it shouldn’t take the CDC to say that inhaling the same stuff that is in car exhaust is terrible for you. More and more research is being conducted that demonstrates that e-cigarettes are nowhere near as harmless as my generation believes. But until science can decisively show that these harmless little Juuls can be lethal, I don’t know if my peers will stop. E-cigarettes are not all vice. They can be a way out for those who have been smoking cigarettes for decades. But anyone born after the turn of the century has no good reason to be vaping. And peer pressure is largely to blame. It is so easy to just conform for a second, because just once can’t hurt. But the amount of nicotine in e-cigarettes can easily turn one little puff into an addiction. Unlike other tobacco products, the concentration of nicotine is much higher, causing the user to become addicted far quicker. So succumbing to peer pressure for just a fleeting second can become a long standing problem when mixed with the large amounts of nicotine in vapes. Perhaps education will help. I can’t conjure up a single person from my school who still thinks that smoking cigarettes are cool. My Senior Class President is also the biggest Juul dealer. They buy them in bulk and then sell them for double the price to younger students. The laws changed this July for buying e-cigarettes, now requiring customers to be 21 instead of 18. But even with this added difficulty, some gas stations don’t card, leaving teenagers easy access to vape products. I wonder if my class president knows the extent of the harm they may be causing. Would my school’s vape dealer have provided the younger students who they are supposed to be mentoring this product knowing that it is like smoking out of an exhaust pipe? I really doubt so. I don’t think that my generation would willingly put themselves at risk for a fleeting buzz. But time will tell if we will continue to ignore past lessons and repeat our grandparents’ mistakes with the tobacco products of their generation.