What does an e-cigarette look like?
E-cigs, vapes, vape pens, pod mods, Juuling and many other names are often associated with e-cigarettes and vaping. All e-cigarettes consist of a battery, a heating element and a cartridge to hold the e-juice. There are over 450 brands on the market!
What is e-juice and pods?
Each device heats the mixture, called e-juice/liquid, producing a nicotine aerosol that is inhale. This liquid is Propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin-based liquid with nicotine, flavoring, and other chemicals and metals. Many of these particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals and a wide variety of other substances. Many devices require that you add e-juice. JUUL uses pre-filled e-juice pods. Click here to see how they look in the packaging. There is growing concern about the flavoring used in e-cigarette liquid. There are literally tens of thousands of available e-cigarette flavors. The toxicity, concentrations of nicotine, and other chemicals are not regulated which makes vaping’s already unclear effects on health even murkier.
JUUL uses liquid nicotine refills called “pods”, which contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. One pod = one pack of traditional cigarettes.
What is the big deal?
It is important to remember that no amount of nicotine is safe for youth. The negative impacts of nicotine are different for the teen brain as compared to the impacts on a fully matured adult brain. Critical skill development related to problem-solving, impulse control, anticipating consequences and more are all factors that nicotine has on a developing brain. Here is a link to the Surgeon Generals report.
Rising Concerns: Vaping or “dabbing” marijuana/THC
E-cigarette devies can be used to vaporize marijuana, THC oil, CBD oil, or the THC wax (THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). This is often referred to as dabbing. THC concentrations in vaporized hash oil or wax can be considerably higher and therefore more potent than smoking or eating marijuana. Dabbing marijuana for recreational use may appeal to youth because the method produces less odor than smoking marijuana through a joint, blunt or pipe. Just like smoking, vaping marijuana can result in bloodshot eyes, dry mouth and thirst, increased appetite, and shifts in behavior and mood.
E-Cigarettes and Vaping Education
E-Cigarettes have been around for close to a decade. However, in the last few years their rise in popularity has grown exponentially, especially with the teen and young adult population. Unfortunately, our youth have been the target of the tobacco company’s growth strategy. Although these companies emphatically deny that they market to our youth, critics point out that features of their advertising, packaging, flavoring and sleek devices are the exact things that make e-cigarettes appealing to teens.
When e-cigarettes first came to the marketplace they were touted as a safer alternative than traditional cigarettes. In the last few years what was considered a cessation tool or less toxic has been replaced with high tech e-cigarette devices, flavored liquids and vaping pods with as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.
Across the nation e-cigarette use by teens has skyrocketed. Unfortunately, Kanabec County is no exception. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) collect data statewide every three years in a survey known as the Minnesota Student Survey (MSS). In addition, SACK collects data every three years, when the MSS survey is not administered, for comparison purposes. In 2016, the MSS survey show 11.3% of student in grades 8, 9, and 11 self-reported using and e-cigarette within the past 30 days. Fast forward to 2018 and the data from the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs (ATOD) survey takes an alarming trend upwards to 25.1% of students in 8, 9, 11 grade reporting use of e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Preliminary reports from the 2019 MSS survey show at least a 10% increase in 30-day use of e-cigarettes in grades 8, 9, and 11. Final data will be available in the fall.
Some are under the impression that e-cigarettes are nothing more than harmless water that is vaporized with delicious flavors. These flavor pods or liquids have been packaged and formulated to appear and taste the same as tradition forms of cotton candy, watermelon suckers, or sour patch kids. Currently, nicotine amounts in e-cigarettes pods or liquids vary. Some name brand products, like the Juul, often contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.
While naturally produced, nicotine is highly addictive. The teen years are critical for brain development, which continue into young adulthood. Highly addictive substances, like nicotine, rewire the brains natural reward system. These chemical changes create long-lasting effects and increased risk of addictions to other drugs. The reality is, “just vaping”, often seen as a social norm, could lead to other addictive behaviors such as binge drinking, traditional cigarette use, marijuana use, or other drugs or alcohol related addictions.
The message sent a decade ago was that e-cigarettes were a better alternative to tradition tobacco cigarettes. That message, while partial correct, was not intended for youth with developing brains. When asked about the perception of harm, in regards to vaping, 43% of those surveyed in grades 8,9,11 grades felt there was “small or no risk of using e-cigarettes”.*
How can we work on prevention and raise healthier, happier, safer children in our community?
- No one person, family or community is immune to substance use. Substance use happens within all social economic backgrounds and cultures.
- Use age appropriate questions to find out what they already know about e-cigarettes and vaping – even at very young ages.
- Be specific about what chemicals are being inhaled. Need more education on what is in an e-cigarette? sackcoalition.org has a page devoted to e-cigarettes and vaping.
- Protective factors such as strong families, schools, and communities help build resiliency against substance use. Keep youth engaged in positive activities: sports, art, community group, faith based organizations, etc.
- Engage youth in decision making, family tasks, and community projects. Youth that feel valued and included report less substance use.*
- Ask for support. Suggest they talk with other trusted adults such as a teacher, relative, faith leader, coach or counselors who you know are aware of the risks of e-cigarettes.
- Set a positive example. If you smoke and want to quit there are resources available.
- Keep talking. It’s OK to have the conversation over time, in bits and pieces.
The Substance Abuse Coalition of Kanabec County (SACK) and Kanabec County Community Health works with community partners on primary prevention. Education, information sharing and promoting positive healthy behaviors is the cornerstone of our work. While the data we review drives our work, we know that there are real people behind the numbers. The health and the risk taking behaviors our youth experience must be a top priority in our home, schools and community.
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