The Wave Of Vape Culture Clouds New Generation


Gabrielle Daley, Editor-In-Chief

When driving, it’s become common to see a fog encompassing a nearby vehicle; this fog isn’t exhaust – it’s vape. In bathrooms, corners, and closets, e-cigarettes can be found despite the diseases and addiction that can result from using them. Originally created to help cigarettes smokers move to a safer option, these devices have taken a new root and have popularized among young adults. In fact, a January 2018 New York Times article reported that 11% of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the past month. E-cigarettes are made of three parts: a rechargeable battery, a vaporization chamber, and a cartridge. The battery is connected to a hollow tube that has electronic controls and an atomizer. Before use, the smoker attaches a cartridge full of nicotine fluid to the vaporization chamber. The chamber heats the juice and the atomizer creates the smoky vapor.

These juice cartridges contain different levels of nicotine, a highly addictive stimulant drug; propylene glycol – a preservative found in foods like ice cream; glycerin – a widely used liquid sweetener; and flavorings. Although there are fewer toxins found in the e-cigarette liquids, seeing traditional cigarettes have 7000 different chemicals in them, it doesn’t mean they are “safe” to use. Chemicals found in e-cigarettes aren’t all known, seeing that multiple different chemicals are used in the flavorings. According to the American Health Association, there are over 500 brands selling over 8,000 flavorings of vape. These may include mint, blue raspberry, cotton candy, cinnamon, milk and honey. Of course, when chemicals are heated, as they are in e-cigarettes, a chemical reaction is made. All the products of these chemical reactions are unknown, and all the health effects of those chemicals are also beyond scientists grasps currently.

However, just because the e-cigarettes don’t come with the carcinogenic (cancer-causing) tar that combusts in cigarettes, nicotine is still present. Research, according to John Hopkins, has suggested that nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine. Nicotine is a stimulant that enters the bloodstream after being inhaled. In the brain, the nicotine causes a release of neurotransmitters including dopamine – the neurotransmitter that causes feelings of pleasure. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes have different cartridges that can come with extra nicotine. JUUL (a popular e-cigarette brand) has cartridges that last 200 puffs, according to their website that is a pack a day… in five weeks that’s 100 cigarettes. Within no time, people are addicted to the short nicotine high that e-cigarettes give. Signs of nicotine addiction include the inability to stop smoking; withdrawal (cravings, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, depressed mood); giving up social or recreational activities in order to smoke.

Due to nicotine being a stimulant drug, it increases a person’s heart rate when inhaled. According to the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, “The new study of nearly 70,000 people found that heightened heart attack risk for e-cigarettes is on top of the effects of conventional cigarettes, which by themselves nearly triple the odds of heart attack risk when smoked daily. Together they lead to five times the non-smoking heart attack risk in those who use both conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes every day.” Nicotine can also cause problems with reproductive health. When pregnant women are exposed to the drug, it can harm fetuses. Nicotine is also toxic to still-developing brains, and can also cause respiratory problems in children.

Nicotine isn’t the only substance at fault in e-cigarette juice. Diacetyl is a flavoring chemical found in e-cigs and when heated it can cause a severe and irreversible lung disease called obliterative bronchiolitis, according to Harvard Research. This lung disease is also called Popcorn Lung because the chemical (diacetyl) was put in microwave popcorn to create the fake butter flavor. Workers in microwave popcorn factories caught this disease by inhaling diacetyl. An April 2018, New York Times article found that diacetyl was found in 75% of leading brands of e-cigarettes.

Propylene glycol and glycerin are part of the basis for the vape juice. When heated, these chemicals turn into formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring gas that is used for preserving dead animals and bodies; pressed wood products; glues and adhesives. Acetaldehyde is a chemical found in natural foods like fruits sometimes and is also used in processed foods. Perfumes, disinfectants, drugs and acetic acid have acetaldehyde too. Both formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are carcinogens, however, it isn’t clear how long-term exposure can lead to cancer at the moment. In addition, these chemicals irritate the eyes and airways when inhaled.

In fact, electronic cigarettes haven’t received approval as smoking cessation devices by the Food and Drug Administration. A study has shown that people who start using e-cigarettes to quit smoking in general just end up e-smoking and smoking. According to the University of Southern California, 70% to 90% of people that picked up e-cigs to stop smoking cigarettes are still smoking tobacco.

E-cigarettes have instead popularized among the youth, resulting in widespread nicotine addiction in high schools. Legally, a person must be eighteen to purchase e-cigarettes and their flavorings; but the trend has even begun with middle school. Smoking in all public facilities is illegal, but in schools across the country, students are found vaping. “An individual who has not previously used nicotine products should not start, particularly youth. We encourage parents to talk with their children about the dangers of nicotine,” stated JUUL. Why is vaping an issue among teens? According to John Hopkins Medicine, it’s because young adults believe vaping is less harmful than smoking; e-cigarettes are lower in cost than traditional cigarettes; nicotine juice cartridges are often formulated with flavorings that appeals to the young. Besides these reasons is peer pressure and teens’ need to feel secure and “in” with the crowd. “It’s a cool kid thing. ‘They’re all doing it, so I gotta do it.’ It’s a popularity issue… it must be because of the ‘magically delicious flavorings,’” said Officer Wise.

At West Springfield High School there are consequences for smoking. The handbook states that students breaking the tobacco product policy (includes e-cigarettes) can face an external suspension and possibly a diversion with community service if it’s a first-time offense. “My biggest concern is how vaping is going to affect an athlete’s and the people around them’s health. With athletes, there’s another set of expectations and they tend to be role models. I think anyone who makes the choice to engage in smoking are being held accountable,” Ms. Barnacle, the Varsity Volleyball coach stated. The MIAA also suspends an athlete from 25% percent of an athlete’s season if found smoking once, and 60% if found again. Coach Griffin’s Track and Field athletes aren’t suspended for 25% of the season if found vaping but are kicked off the team for the whole season. “I don’t think student-athletes are aware of how much damage e-cigarettes and tobacco can do to the body in the long run. They think it’s cool, they think it’s sweet, they think it’s fun and smells good,” Mr. Griffin added. The issue of e-cigarettes, along with their health consequences is at an extreme incline, and administrative and athletic consequences are there to prevent this issue. The next time you think about vaping or buying an e-cigarette, think to yourself: is it all worth it? Do I want to spend a lifetime fighting this addiction? Stop before it’s too late.