by Victoria De Souza
The increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes among teenagers is a result of the easy access and targeting a young audience in the promotion of vape products.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), nearly two in five students in 12th grade report vaping within the past year. This has been raising concerns about the impact on vaping on brain health and the potential for addiction in teenagers.
The use of e-cigarettes by teens has been increasing for the past few years. In 2016, the NIDA released data showing that teens are more likely to use e-cigarettes than cigarettes.
In 2018, research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that an estimated 3.6 million adolescents were using e-cigarettes.
With the e-cigarettes companies, such as eCigs and JUUL, targeting teens and young adults with frequent appearances of the products on social media, that impact has been increasing sales of the products and inducing people to become consumers. In 2015, JUUL spent more than $1 million in promoting their product on social media.
The rising number of hospitalizations related to e-cigarettes has been pushing lawmakers to step up to change regulations for the production of e-cigarettes and how they can be obtained.
The Texas Medical Association has confirmed more than 70 cases of vaping-related illnesses in the state of Texas. Nationally, there have been more than 800 reported cases and 11 deaths in 45 other states. The state of Texas enacted legislation to increase the minimum age to purchase electronic cigarettes to 21 on Sept. 1 of this year.
The first death in the state related to vaping was reported by the Texas Department of Health Services on Oct. 8.
Around 20 percent of high school students in 2018 consume e-cigarettes, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Richard Winslow (not his real name) is an 18-year-old high school student in the Levelland area who said experimenting with vaping was a means of escape.
“I started vaping a year ago,” recalled Winslow. “I was in a dark place. I used my sister’s vape. I could say I started to feel the need to continue using it to feel good and feel something new.”
Gabriel Regnedel (not his real name), another high school student from the Levelland area, explained how curiosity lead him into the habit of vaping.
“I was hanging out with my junior buddies when I was a freshman,” recalled Regnedel. “They had vapes, and I tried it, and it was a shocking experience. It was very flavorful.”
Richie Hook (not his real name), another student from the Levelland area, said he used e-cigarettes for two months as a casual thing to do that did not last.
“I was honestly interested in it because of all the tricks that I saw people doing with the vapor,” said Hook. “But then I realized that I was not getting nothing out of that besides losing my money.”
Winslow, Regnedel, and Hook each said that although they are younger than the minimum age to purchase e-cigarettes, it is easy to obtain the product. Almost any person they ask buys it for them.
According to NIDA, teens who consume e-cigarettes are 30.7 percent more likely to start smoking tobacco products, while there is only an 8.1 percent chance of a non-user starting to smoke.
Regnedel mentioned that a couple of months ago he consumed tobacco cigarettes, but said that being a user of e-cigarettes did not lead him to cigarettes.
“I don’t believe that vape lead me to try cigarettes, because I always vaped, but I never was bothered by the smoke of cigarettes,” said Regnedel. “My dad was a smoker for all of his life and passed away from lung and liver cancer.”
Recent media reports about how unsafe using e-cigarettes may be are causing some users to reconsider their actions.
“Vaping, in general, doesn’t concern me,” said Regnedel. “I believe the danger is on the THC-based vapes.”
Winslow, who has been vaping for a year, said that after seeing the news about e-cigarettes, he started to be concerned about how vaping could lead him to have issues with his lungs.
DeEtte Edens, associate director of Health and Wellness on the Levelland campus of South Plains College, reports that the number of students presenting symptoms of vaping-related issues has been increasing on campus.
“We have an increase in the number of students that have been seen for upper respiratory issues that are also users of vape,” said Edens, “and, unfortunately, some of them have been presenting strong side effects.”
Jayden McDaniel is a 19-year-old SPC student who has been vaping for two and a half years.
McDaniel mentioned that his usage of e-cigarettes, THC-based and regular vapes, started as a habit to help him deal with his issues with stress and anxiety in high school.
“It was always available to me, so I just kept using for the nicotine,” said McDaniel. “I tried THC vapes, and they made me feel better, but I did not enjoy the taste.”
The lack of regulation for e-cigarettes based in THC has been brought to the attention by the public, since the use of cannabis products are prohibited by federal law. But they are being produced on the black market.
“These products have no regulation by the Food and Drug Administration regulations,” said Edens, “and there is no knowledge of what kind of chemicals are being mixed and later being inhaled by the consumers.”
Consumers of e-cigarettes, whether THC-based or not, say that vaping has brought them judgements from others who may not have consumed or do not have knowledge of what it is.
Consuming e-cigarettes is not safe and must be stopped immediately, according to the FDA.