CLARK, NJ — The dangers of smoking tobacco, such as cancer, emphysema and heart disease, have long been emphasised in middle school health classes. Now the so-called “safe alternative” to smoking also is being targeted.
Vaping, inhaling flavored vapor through an electronic cigarette, has been growing in popularity since its invention in China in 2003. In fact, the use of e-cigarettes has grown so much among youth that Clark health officials delivered a presentation on the adverse effects to Carl H. Kumpf Middle School eighth-graders earlier this month.
“There is a trend that sees gross elevation in the use of these products, which outweighs all other tobacco products,” Cathy Butler-Witt, assistant director at the Southern Perinatal Cooperative, said in a phone interview Friday, Feb. 16. “This is actually a national issue regarding the use of nicotine.”
According to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, e-cigarettes remained the most commonly used tobacco product among youth for the third consecutive year, used by 11.3 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students.
Furthermore, the use of e-cigarettes by middle-schoolers has more than tripled since 2014, according to Butler-Witt’s associate Christina Martins, who gave the presentation at Kumpf.
With traditional cigarettes, compounds are activated in tobacco when lit, so the user inhales carcinogens into the lungs, Paul Lavella, counselor and director of alumni services at Summit Behavioral Health, said in a recent phone interview.
While similar compounds are present in e-cigarette oils, there are significantly smaller amounts of them, Lavella stated. Thus, he said e-cigarettes are only a healthier alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes were originally created to wean people off of traditional smoking, Butler-Witt said. But as more producers became involved, they began marketing vaping to younger consumers with sweeter flavors such as cotton candy and cherry and and odd names like “Unicorn Puke.”
By widening the market, adolescents who may not have previously used a tobacco product are now vaping, or smoking e-cigarette, for social purposes and the flavor, she said.
In fact, a 2015 study by JAMA Pediatrics concluded that the number of tweens and teens who used e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes or both in 2014 was greater than the number smoking cigarettes in 2009.
Other studies have shown that those using e-cigarettes are three times as likely to take up smoking tobacco within a year.
Confirming the results of several studies on the topic, Butler-Witt noted that, “there is a connection between adolescents starting with electronic devices, becoming addicted to nicotine, and then turning to traditional cigarettes.”
The adverse effects of vaping have been noted in several medical journals and include eye irritation, coughing, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Despite more adolescents getting their hands on vaping products, Patrick Zahn, manager of Aladdin Glass and Vape in Union, said customers are required to be 21 or older to purchase products in his store. He said most of his customers range in age from 25 to 70, and “are mainly people trying to quit smoking, or are people that smoke hookah for the flavor.”
A hookah is multistemmed glass device that allows a user to smoke loose, usually flavored, tobacco that is filtered or cooled by a liquid, usually water. The liquid involved creates a vapor effect.
If you are not in that market, Zahn added, vaping is not the best habit to pick up.
“Breathing anything but oxygen into your lungs is not good, but smoking an e-cigarette is significantly better than smoking traditional cigarettes,” Zahn said.