We’ve heard the dangers of smoking cigarettes from a very young age. D.A.R.E. programs at our schools and countless anti-smoking PSA’s every year have been a constant reminder that smoking is terrible. They start as a trend, become temporary releases, turn into addictions and have devastating effects. However, cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death. The CDC reports it’s responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the US. That’s 1,300 deaths daily.
“I was never a heavy smoker, maybe a pack every week and a half,” says former smoker Christopher Collins. ”E-cigs allowed me to have just a mini smoke break to calm my nerves when needed.”
It significantly decreased Collins cravings, allowing him to enjoy a healthier lifestyle. In high schools across the country, a growing number of teens are picking up the device but for other reasons. The recent trend is called vaping. However, what they don’t know is just how much nicotine these e-cig contain, putting them on the fast track to addiction.
“Our brain develops new neural pathways when we initially try those new substances,” says Lauren Johnson, a licensed counselor specializing in addiction. “For teens who’ve never smoked cigarettes before, those pathways have never been formed. Once you do use, those neural pathways are now there, and they never go away.”
Behind this newfound addiction is Juul, one of the largest e-cigarette brands in the world. The USB sized e-cigarette contains among the highest nicotine contents of any e-cigarette on the U.S market according to the CDC.
“You’ll hear about people chasing that initial high or how they felt when they initially started using,” says Johnson. “It’s part of how substance abuse gets worse over time.”
She says the majority of her clients smoke, and if they don’t, their friends do. Since learning about this new trend, Johnson has geared her focus towards addiction therapy to help draw her younger clients out of the constant need for nicotine. However, there’s proof that the need to vape may come from more than just the need to feel cool.
“Anxiety and depression, very common in teenagers these days,” says Johnson. “They feel like they’re under pressure, overstimulation from school, social media, their brains never really shut off.”
The FDA claims that excessive use of e-cigs is the result of social media influencer marketing. Research from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California found underage kids made up 25 percent of Juul’s followers on Twitter. On the popular social media platform, Instagram, a search of “#juul” shows thousands of young people performing vapor tricks, modifications, and celebrating their favorite new gadget.
However, Juul is adamant about cutting the craze. In a statement released by CBS News in October, the company says it “has aggressively worked with social media platforms to remove posts and accounts that portray our product in unauthorized and youth-oriented manners. In just six months we helped remove over 8,000 listings, 450 accounts, and 18,000 online marketplace listings.”
At the top of their website now, in big bold text, a stern reminder: “WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.” Juul admits they don’t want non-smokers using their products, so they’ve been consistent in helping reduce the use of its product among teens. They ‘ve worked to end the sale of flavored Juul Pods in convenient stores, and enforced stricter age-verifications on their website. The company also suspended its social media accounts in November, hoping the act will send a compelling message.
“It alters your brain in ways that it can’t be altered back,” says Johnson. “These teens will live with the consequences with that decision for much longer.”
Could 2019 be the year when teens put down the newest trend and pick up sound advice from experts who know best? It’s a new year’s resolution worth passing along to help curb addiction before the craving ever begins.