Danger behind the clouds

Grace DeKoker, Editor-in-Chief

Teenagers have been taught since childhood knows that cigarettes are a leading cause of lung cancer. The tobacco, tar, and noxious chemicals combined with nicotine creates a highly addictive stimulant that can cause lifelong damage. A popular alternative to smoking that has been on the rise is the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping. An e-cigarette consists of a metal or plastic chamber, with a battery to heat up liquid into vapor that will be inhaled. A new market of smoking-alternatives and cigarettes has exploded, one of the most popular has been the Juul. E-cigs and Juuls are certainly not traditional cigarettes, but that does not mean there are no risks to the users.

Juul poses an exceptionally high danger to adolescents, particularly those who are not using them for the intended purpose of quitting smoking. One Juul pod has the equivalent nicotine to a full pack of cigarettes, according to the Truth Initiative, and 63 percent of Juul users were unaware that the product is always made with nicotine. Teens are ingesting concentrated nicotine and not even realizing it. While nicotine itself isn’t classified as a carcinogen, studies from the National Center for Biotechnology Information show that it can speed up the rate of tumor cell growth in the lungs, colon, and breast, and can lower the effectiveness of broad treatments these types of cancer as well as many others, according to a Harvard study from 2017.

There also are links to insulin resistance, which is a direct route to increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes, and it can impair the development of adolescent brains, according to NCBI. Some teenagers who would steer clear of cigarettes choose to vape instead, not understanding the addictive nature of nicotine or the potential repercussions of nicotine ingestion. The University of Pittsburgh conducted a study that adds to the growing list of risks associated with vaping: they found that young adults who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely than their non-vaping peers to begin smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes within 18 months of their first time using e-cigarettes. It can be a gateway into smoking cigarettes, or even into further drug use, which can have incredibly dangerous and even fatal effects. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, ranking below heroin but above alcohol and prescription medications. The long-term effects may not only cause serious health problems, it may even inhibit one’s ability to accept treatment for them.

A lesser known danger lies in the uncertainty surrounding e-cigarettes: most of the data gathered about the negative effects of cigarettes was culminated over decades of study and research. Vaping has surged in popularity over the past five years, and there simply is not enough data collected for healthcare professionals to come to an accurate conclusion about the effects of vaping on youth. Furthermore, Juul will not be submitting their product for official review from the FDA until 2022, meaning that some ingredients may be unsafe for consumption. Such ingredients include diacetyl, propylene glycol, and formaldehyde: diacetyl can cause scarring in lung tissue, as well as lung condition nicknamed ‘popcorn lung’ is caused by excess diacetyl, and the lungs of those affected may never return to normal. Formaldehyde as well as propylene glycol are a known carcinogens. All three have been found in trace amounts of Juul vapor.

The bottom line remains that not enough is known about Juul and vape products, and that information may not come for years or even decades. What is known is that dangerous nicotine addictions can occur in teens who otherwise would have had no exposure to the chemical, and that Juul popularity is sweeping the nation.