Vaping is the newest trend among high schoolers, coming in many forms including e-cigarettes, Juuls, vape boxes, and vape pens which can be easily mistaken as items such as flash drives and pens.
The aerosol these devices produce contains addictive levels of nicotine along with many other toxic substances such as formaldehyde, lead, cadmium, and acetaldehyde. These chemicals are found in diesel exhaust, preserving animals for dissection, and absorbing neutrons in nuclear reactors.
How did Generation Z go from abolishing tobacco smoking entirely to ingesting these foreign chemicals and supporting the vape epidemic? Cigarettes have a much dirtier reputation than the attractive flavors of vaping products, but these are equally as dangerous, if not more so; a single Juul pod contains just as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. This fact is recognized by GenZ considering campaigns such as the TRUTH initiative to end smoking.
Besides the frightening health risks, there are also legal consequences for minors. The state of Virginia defines an e-cigarette as “any noncombustible product containing nicotine that employs a heating element, power source, electronic circuit, or other electronic, chemical, or mechanical means, regardless of shape or size, that can be used to produce vapor from nicotine in a solution or other form [including] any electronic cigarette, electronic cigar, electronic cigarillo, electronic pipe, or similar product or device and any cartridge or other container of nicotine in a solution or other form that is intended to be used with or in an [aforementioned] device,” in §18.2-371.2 of the Code of Virginia.
The state has placed a restriction on these products for anyone under the age of 18 due to the harmful effects nicotine has on the adolescent brain and how it increases the risk of future addiction to other drugs. Now with the passage of HB 2748 in the Virginia legislature, the legal smoking and vaping age has been raised from 18 to 21 years old as of July 1, 2019. Schools are responsible for the discipline of e-cigarette use, and many students are getting suspended for vaping on school property and failing drug tests due to nicotine detection.
While the conversation with your children regarding tobacco use can be difficult, it’s extremely important. Educating youth on the dangers of vaping and nicotine is the first step in bringing an end to the misuse of these devices among high schoolers. Deconstructing the idea that these are safe alternatives to cigarettes should be the center of the conversation, not lecture, as well as consequences beyond the proven health risks. This conversation can take place over time and be supportive, not criticizing, to establish an open dialogue about the potential long-term effects of vaping.
For more resources on vaping, visit the CDC’s website or the TRUTH campaign.
Olivia Hoye and Ian DeHaven
James River High School students