If you're a parent or teacher today, you're probably concerned about the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) by middle and high school students. Kids vaping is a dangerous health issue with long-term impact.
E-cigarettes, however, are much harder to detect and control than cigarettes. When I've seen kids vaping on the street, the emitted vapors quickly disappear. Vaping also doesn't set off smoke detectors in lavatories the way a cigarette would. Many vaporizers look like a flash drive or credit card, making them really easy for students to conceal, which is a huge driver of their widespread use.
Further reading: How to Deal with Cell Phones in School
Here's what teachers and other adults should know about this epidemic.
One Student's Story
I asked my students about vaping. Most said that it was for "middle schoolers," and that kids vape because it's trendy and they think it looks cool. Since the different flavors mask the taste of nicotine, it doesn't "feel nasty, like smoking a cigarette."
Dena started vaping when she was in middle school as a way to relax and deal with stress. She also told me that her preferred e-cigarette brand was easy to get. Although you have to be 18 years old to buy the device and disposable pods, Dena, who is 15, has never had a problem purchasing them at her local convenience store. She told me the only thing that really prohibited her from buying them was the cost: $30 for the device itself and $15 for a packet of four pods.
Cause for Concern
According to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, there are several health risks for youth who use e-cigarettes. They contain dangerous chemicals and heavy metals like nickel, tin, and lead, which can damage the respiratory system. Further, "nicotine exposure during adolescence and young adulthood can cause addiction and harden the developing brain."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently stated that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students increased nearly tenfold between 2011 and 2015. Since the CDC started collecting data on e-cigarettes in 2011, use has "surpassed current use of every other tobacco product overall, including conventional cigarettes." Despite their fruity flavors and innocent packaging, the CDC wants people to know that "nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age."
A study by the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom found that "teenagers who had vaped when they were 13 and 14 were four times more likely to have tried a tobacco cigarette a year later than those who had not." E-cigarettes are clearly a gateway to cigarette use.
Students Want to Be Educated on the Facts
Not many programs educate students about the harmful effects of e-cigarettes. Many of my students think that vaping is much safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes. Many didn't even know that e-cigarettes contain nicotine, despite the fact that a University of Michigan Monitoring the Future survey found that "99 percent of e-cigarette products sold in 2015 at U.S. convenience stores, supermarkets, mass merchandizers, and similar outlets contain nicotine." In fact, when students were asked if they vaped nicotine, marijuana, or just flavoring, "36 percent of 12th graders reported vaping something, but only a quarter of those said they vaped nicotine. Nearly a third reported they vaped only flavoring."
They had no idea they were vaping nicotine. They were also unaware of the dangers and addictiveness of nicotine.
Students must learn, at a very early age, the danger of nicotine and the fact that e-cigarettes contain this chemical. My students told me that statistics and facts help, but hearing about the dangers of e-cigarettes from someone who has experienced them firsthand would be powerful. Case studies and first-person accounts from kids their own age can be especially effective.
Understanding How Marketing Targets Students
My students don't like being anyone's fool, so helping them become more aware of marketing that targets them as a demographic can go a long way toward helping them recognize when they're being targeted. Alisa Padon and Erin Maloney researched the extent to which e-cigarette advertisements use youth-appealing content. They found that all ads did—"with frequent use of emotional appeals, including happiness (68 percent), friendship (41 percent), sex (24 percent), and success (24 percent). Over half featured animation."
Further reading: Should You Let Students Listen to Music in the Classroom?
Kids vaping has become a critical issue for teachers and parents. Education, exploration, and examination can go a long way to helping students understand the dangers and long-term risks of e-cigarettes, and it can help them make better choices.