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Vaping skyrockets among youth

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The sudden increase in vape shops in the last few years has led to a rise in nicotine use at a time when cigarette use is at an all-time low and falling.

But with the introduction of the Juul product in 2017, vaping has skyrocketed among young people, and it is now being considered “the new gateway drug.”

David Fialko, certified prevention specialist and certified tobacco treatment specialist with the Council of S.E. Pennsylvania, came to St. Jude Education Center in Chalfont on Nov. 29 to talk to the seventh- and eighth-graders about vaping. He then gave a presentation to parents and other concerned individuals that evening.

Many people think the e-cigarette is just “flavored water vapor” since supposedly the original intention of e-cigarettes, now called vaporizers or “vapes,” was to help smokers quit. However, nicotine is delivered with every inhale, and because of the delivery method, e-cigarettes may actually condition the young person and prime the brain for movement to cigarette use as well as other drugs.

Nicotine has a calming effect on the mood, but at the same time stresses the body. Nicotine increases both heart rate and blood pressure, which can be more damaging to the still-growing body and mind of teens and pre-teens than adults. Many medical professionals foresee an explosion of cardiovascular problems in 20- to 30-year-olds in another 10 years because of vaping.

But there are other unexpected problems with these nicotine vaporizers. In a vape, a coil heats a pod of liquid, or “juice,” that contains nicotine, flavors, and other chemicals. This creates an aerosol, which has been marketed inaccurately as “vapor,” that is inhaled.

However, as a result of the heating of the coil, toxic metals such as lead, tin and manganese also become suspended in the vapor and become deeply inhaled into the lungs. Long-term effects could be serious. It is already known that long-term exposure to manganese results in symptoms very similar to Parkinson’s disease. And propylene glycol – the most common oil used to deliver the nicotine – effectively suspends flavoring agents such as diacetyl, which can scar lung tissue.

But why the sudden, dramatic rise in vaping among the youth? The Juul. Unlike other e-cigarettes, the Juul is inconspicuous and discreet, small enough to hide in the palm of the hand, and it looks “cool.”
 
Small and techy, it looks like a USB flash drive, and could certainly fool any uninformed adult. The juice comes in fruit or candy flavors and scents, the most popular being mango. Juul has already taken 80 percent of the vape market and has become so prevalent that vaping is now often called “juuling.”

Fialko explained that students are juuling in class when the teacher’s back is turned, and the vapor dissipates so quickly that the teacher can’t guess where the scent is coming from. Then there’s “zeroing,” which is inhaling and swallowing the vapor, to avoid complete detection. The damage caused by this is unknown.

As Fialko explained, nicotine hits the system with a sudden rush, producing dopamines, which are the neurotransmitters responsible for pleasure and happiness. Unlike the natural ways of experiencing dopamines, nicotine and other drugs create dependence as well as tolerance, which primes the brain for future use of other substances.

So while a person who smokes can’t sit in class and smoke every time he needs another cigarette, a person who “vapes” can hide his Juul in his hand, vaping his way through class, thus providing himself with a more regular application of the nicotine drug.

Vaping doesn’t smell, like cigarettes do. It’s clean and provides instant gratification without perceived harmful effects, even disciplinary, since the student rarely gets caught. This sets down neural pathways in the brain to continue to seek out easy sources of dopamine hits, and since young people’s brains are still developing, these pathways can become hardwired, setting these kids up for a lifetime of drug use.

Vaping has already been shown to lead to the use of other nicotine products and marijuana in young people who might never have started to smoke, had vaping not been so accessible.

Fialko encouraged listeners to become more aware as parents, to talk to their children about the very real dangers of vaping, and to spread the word by informing other adults.

For more information and resources to help those struggling with addiction, visit stjudechalfont.org/help-for-addiction.

Jeannette Williams is the director of communications for St. Jude Church and Shrine.

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