Teens and Pre-Teens are Becoming Quickly Addicted to Nicotine
If you have pre-teen or teenage kids, you’ve probably heard of vaping, and that it’s becoming increasingly common at schools in and around Denver and all of Colorado. When people “vape”, they are using an e-cigarette or personal vaporizer. These products provide an alternative to smoking cigarettes by vaporizing a mixture of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, food flavorings, and nicotine. This mixture is often referred to as e-liquid or juice.
Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) are designed for discreet vaping, but some products even contain marijuana waxes and oils that look nearly identical to the Juul. They just aerosolize marijuana instead of nicotine. The Juul is created by a company called Pax Labs, which also makes discreet marijuana vaping devices. For more information about this, visit https://www.paxvapor.com/era/.
Vaping devices come in a wide variety of colors and shapes – some resemble traditional cigarettes; other look like a pen, a tube, a box, or even what looks like a flash drive, popularly known as a Juul. A Juul is part of a family of devices know as vape pods, which use pre-filled vape cartridges and come in a variety of names such as Bo One, MLV Phix, Kandypens RUBI, Nex Labs SMPO, and Suorin Drop, among others.
The Juul is a proprietary device. Teens say they are “Juuling” but it’s like Xerox or Kleenex, where the brand name has become synonymous with the category of the thing to which it belongs. All of these products contain a type of nicotine called “nic salt” which delivers a powerful throat hit that makes it simple to switch flavors, and is one of the easiest ways to start vaping. Unbeknownst to many, there are no nicotine-free versions of these devices. These products are easy to get, easy to use, and easy to hide.
Vaping on the Rise
Vaping has become problematic in schools throughout Colorado. It’s important for parents and their kids to understand the latest trends, and facts. The more parents learn, the better equipped they are to speak confidently to their adolescents and teens about the facts.
Experts suggest that vaping could be a gateway to more traditional and harmful ways of smoking. According to BDS Analytics, since 2016, vape pens have been on a healthy roll in Colorado.
With a Juul, students can vape in class without the teacher knowing. A tiny pod of e-liquid in a Juul has the equivalent nicotine level of 20 cigarettes.
Data from the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey found nearly half of Colorado high schoolers reported that they’ve vaped and that 20 percent became regular vape users. That’s three times the rate of using traditional cigarettes.
“It’s the nicotine that’s so addictive,” said Health Education Liaison for Jefferson County Public Schools Jen Bolcoa. “That the kids believe they’re simply inhaling vapor is kind of a misnomer because the pod systems contain no water, so the kids are actually aerosolizing a liquid. And aerosols impact lung functionality.”
“Kids are attracted to these devices because it’s a novelty; it’s new, it’s customizable, and it tastes good,” added Bolcoa. “Just because it’s cherry or tutti-frutti flavored, does not mean it is nicotine-free. At this time, there is little safety data and these products are not being monitored by the FDA.”
While the FDA is trying to crack down on retailers who sell to minors, they have not currently implemented safety standards for the devices or liquid.
Is Vaping Dangerous?
“Research shows that kids don’t understand what they’re putting into their bodies,” said Bolcoa.
There are concerns about vaping because those who are lured into trying it may be youths who otherwise might not become smokers. Public school systems are struggling because they were set to do away with smoking completely, not just in school systems but communities in general.
“Those using these vaping devices are more likely to smoke combustible cigarettes within six months than those who don’t vape,” said Bolcoa. “We have been seeing steadying declines in smoking cigarettes for over a decade now and vaping could potentially undo the progress we’ve made.”
When vaping, people are being exposed to dangerous levels of nicotine. Nicotine use can quickly escalate into addiction. Not only does it fundamentally change the structure of the brain, its use can also depress the immune system, and result in side effects including dehydration, sore throat and nose, headaches, dizziness, nausea and stomach aches, as well as periodontal disease.
“When parents and teens think they’re dealing with tobacco-free vaping, they are misinformed, as studies show that traces of nicotine can still be found in the juice,” said Bolcoa.
Kids also face potential cancer-causing toxins belonging to a class of chemicals known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) especially when using flavored vaporizers which teens and adolescents use because without the flavorings, the liquid tastes terrible. Formaldehyde, metals, and particles can get stuck deep in the lungs and potentially cause cancer. And nicotine is a poison that can cause raised blood pressure, increased blood fat levels, and constricted blood vessels. These chemicals are linked to adverse health outcomes like cancer, however, it could be decades before it is determined that using the device itself causes cancer.
“I want parents to know these devices are not benign products,” said Bolcoa. “For youth, it’s better if they never start. Ninety percent of lifelong smokers started by the age of 18. As a result, their brains have been rewired; they become quickly addicted and it’s extremely hard to quit. Any device that can download nicotine is not something teens should be using at any level.”
According to Bolcoa, vaping is problematic. Because vaping has a reputation for being fun and harmless, it’s crucial for parents to have informational conversations with teens, and that when they are offered a vaping device, to understand they are better off refusing to use it.
“It’s become a matter of educating administrative staff, teachers, students, and parents with the facts,” she added.
Vaping and e-cigarettes are covered under tobacco-free laws. In addition, the Teen Tobacco Use Prevention Act (TTUPA) disallows the use or possession of these devices anywhere on public school property 24/7.
While consequences to students violating the tobacco-free law do not include expulsion in the Jefferson County Public School system, this can be a suspendable offense. Schools aren’t required to suspend, but they can. Discipline decisions for a violation are left to school-based administrators.
“In Jeffco Public Schools, each school manages discipline for its own students using a range of strategies,” said Bolcoa. “In addition, some municipalities have enacted laws that allow teens to be ticketed and fined for possessing tobacco products.”
Instead of suspension, Bolcoa prefers to see students take part in a Colorado state-funded online interactive program called “Second Chance”. She also works with school counselors to provide students with a 10-week cessation support group known as “Not for Tobacco” (NOT), for vaping and marijuana.
“At the end of the day, we want our students in class, so we’re working on a range of strategies to educate students, parents, and high school nurses,” added Bolcoa. “We are updating our health curriculum, especially in middle schools where vaping often starts, in their ‘healthy decision-making’ classes to educate youth on the health impacts of vaping.”
Where Can You Get More Information?
There are resources available to familiarize yourself about everything from the myths and facts of vaping to what you need to know about speaking to youth.
Learn more about the JUUL.
Parents looking for information on how to talk to their students about vaping, can click here.
Downloadable flyers for students, staff, and the whole school community:
Vaping 101: the myths and the facts
Tip Sheet: talking to teens
For detailed information from the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) report on vaping, visit: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=24952 and https://www.nap.edu/resource/24952/012318ecigaretteConclusionsbyOutcome.pdf