Stop the vaping epidemic

Nicotine consumption in any form is harmful, we must stigmatize using e-cigarettes just as much as real ones



Vaping should have the same level of stigma as smoking regular cigarettes. Adolescents are impressionable and spreading the idea that vaping is not as harmful as traditional smoking can cause higher rates of addiction because they think it is better for them.

ALEX BIVIANO, Evergreen columnist

The vaping epidemic has spread from adult smokers looking for an alternative to cigarettes all the way down to middle schoolers trying to fit in. Nicotine addiction cannot persist, having already entrenched us in a public health crisis.

While a multitude of factors created this situation, the amount of anti-tobacco education children received in the third through fifth grades may have caused usage to increase, despite the intent to end teen smoking.

Adolescents are impressionable and relatively easy to convince when it comes to conveying important health information. Personally, my experience has only led me to hate two notable nicotine delivery methods: chewing tobacco and cigarettes.

I attribute this to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education-funded educational material that was given to me by the school’s guidance counselor.

This training critiqued marketing used by tobacco companies and the added ingredients that go into cigarettes such as tar and similar carcinogens. Admittedly, the only convenient means to ingest nicotine a decade ago was with these additives.

“My grandma was told by her doctor in Fairbanks, Alaska, in the 1960s that you need to smoke cigarettes to make your bones stronger,” said Zach Anders, a senior communication major.

The real failure of these lessons is that nicotine becomes viewed as a safe thing to ingest when compared to the other ingredients. Teens began vaping without fear, thinking it was a healthy way to get a nicotine rush.

These promises lack any scientific evidence whatsoever and impact many young people today, just like they did with older generations. Marketing the Juul as a “healthy alternative” leads customers to think they mitigate the risk of smoking, despite consuming a known carcinogen that does not have any research proving it is healthier.

It is easy to blame consumers for getting themselves addicted to such an unhealthy product especially after we were expected to “end” smoking by sending cigarette sales plummeting to their current level. However, the tobacco industry has not taken this lying down and has pushed for more marketing freedoms worldwide. Marlboro’s recent consideration to acquire a large stake in Juul exemplifies this.

Despite what some believe, marketing works. Even though Juul isn’t directly marketed to kids, the company was able to effectively sell the experience by making itself the topic of content that many millennials and Generation Z adolescents consume.

Companies like Barstool Sports, which posts numerous times a day from its plethora of accounts. Accounts like 5th Year, which focuses on content for college students, prominently feature many videos of Juul consumption and created the #CigsInside movement which has limited the well-deserved stigma around cigarette consumption.

While Barstool, like Juul itself, claims to only market products for the appropriate age groups, there simply aren’t enough restricting factors to keep these products away from minors. The recent sanctions should help limit Juul consumption but instead create a power vacuum for those already addicted and looking for new ways to feel the rush, now that their favorite flavors are unavailable to them.

“Stanford researchers show that there is already an entire generation of young adults addicted to nicotine and they don’t even know it, and they’re going to be addicted to it for a long time,” Anders said.

Many young people undervalue the true strength of addiction and the impact it has on one’s brain and early development. What makes this issue worse is the fact that adolescents are not smoking for a purpose, but to fit in instead.

When the purpose is to fit in, this would lead a well-informed reader to believe many youths do not consider the health risks of addiction. They might value social capital over staying healthy.

I cannot say what is next from here. We are in uncharted territory as a society, working with an early-research product toting such high consumption levels. Teens and preteens must be educated about the dangers of nicotine and the effects of vaporized nicotine must be researched further.

Although the problem seems insurmountable today, we must do what we can to limit the spread of nicotine and help get teens detoxed as soon as possible.