Vaping has come of age in the most perfect of social conditions. Smoking cigarettes is falling out of favor socially and even among nicotine users, and is wholly rejected by many young people today. To get their fix they're turning to what is marketed as a cleaner and safer method of ingestion. Enticing flavors, edgy technology and social media are empowering the tobacco industry to ensnare a new generation with nicotine addiction by way of vaping. And it’s working. In 2016, 43.8% of high schoolers in New York state tried vaping, more than double the total two years prior. This trend has Ontario County officials deeply concerned.
Vaping is the catchall term for Electronic Nicotine Delivery Devices (ENDS) including e-cigarettes, vape pens and mods including Juul and Rolo Badge.
All involve heating up a liquid known as “e-juice” or “e-liquid” and other sub- stances (wax, dabs and THC oil) to 190 F in a small chamber to vaporize the liquid, allowing the user to inhale it. There is no flame and no smoke, facts which have led some people to believe vaping is not harmful to the mouth, throat and lungs.
New York’s Ontario County doesn’t buy into that, and has taken a firm stance that vaping has zero positive benefits.
“We’re trying to get people off nicotine,” says Christy Richards, RN, MPH, CLC, and a Public Health Educator for Ontario County Public Health. “Instead, we’re seeing rates of nicotine use increase in the schools. We’re seeing rates of pregnant women increasing for the first time in years. We don’t know longitudinally what effect this will have on the human body.”
A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING
Vaping does not produce smoke, but that does not make it a healthy alternative to smoking. Each bottle of e-juice contains 540 milligrams of nicotine, the equivalent of 42 cigarettes. One Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. These are precarious doses for adults. For children and teens, they can be dangerous.
“It can increase your heart rate and leave you feeling sweaty, dizzy and anxious,” Richards says. “I find it interesting that school nurses are seeing an increase in reported panic attacks at school and the symptoms of vape poisoning and panic attacks are very similar.”
The list of dangers continues to grow. The inhaled vapor is known to carry toxic heavy metals. Propylene glycol, another ingredient, is safe if not heated, but in vaping liquids are heated and inhaled.
“Dow Chemical warns people that ‘inhalation and exposure to mist should be avoided.’ But that’s exactly what you do when vaping,” Richards says.
Diacetyl, which is used in many flavorings, has been linked to so-called popcorn lung, a condition that leaves sufferers coughing and short of breath. Moreover, batteries in some ENDS have exploded.
As for the value as a cigarette alter- native, the British Medical Journal has released a study reporting that use of an e-cigarette is a predictor of starting to smoke cigarettes within a year.
Richards is working hard to turn people, especially kids, away from vaping. It’s a formidable task. Being so attractive to new users is another reason why Ontario County is opposed to it. Here’s what she’s up against:
• No conclusive negative effects in the research. Vaping has only been around since 2010. There has simply not been enough time to find reliable information from studies about its long-term effects on the body.
• Easy to get. Easy to use. You only have to be 18 to purchase vaping devices and everything is also avail- able over the internet at affordable prices. No lighter is needed.
• Many flavors, tastes and smells. Candy, creams (think custard or strawberries and cream), spices, savory, tobaccos, mints, fruits, cookies and cakes — every flavor profile is available.
• Easy to conceal. The Juul mod is one example of an ENDS that can be hidden in a pocket and then charged through a USB port, making detection difficult, even if being charged in plain sight during class time. Vape pens and mods are specifically designed to produce little to no odor.
• High-tech and cool. ENDS look and feel high-tech with a futuristic appeal. Companies even put a health spin by advertising that you can vape your vitamins.
• Social media. Social media presents ENDS as a lifestyle amenity and social media amplifies peer pressure. Richards’s message is simple.
“When it comes to vaping, don’t be the guinea pig,” she says. “That’s what these tobacco companies are using you as. Don’t do it.”