Teen use of electronic cigarettes has skyrocketed in recent years, despite warnings about their toxicity, even addictive potential, leading teens to more harmful drugs like cocaine.
If you’re just waking up to the culture of e-cigarettes, they are long-shaped, similar to cigars, cigarettes or ballpoint pens, with reusable cartridges containing a liquid solution (e-liquid or e-juice) that is vaporized in the container. An LED light indicates that the e-cigarette is “in use.”
There’s no smoke with an e-cigarette, but the “smoker” is exposed to plenty of chemicals that are equally toxic.
Toxic e-juice in e-cigarettes
The e-juice solution is available in hundreds of flavors, which makes e-cigs fun for young people. However, the juice contains high levels of toxic metals that can harm lungs, even higher than in standard cigarettes, and may contain various levels of nicotine.
On the positive side, the nicotine in e-cigarettes doesn’t contain the 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, and have been promoted as smoking cessation devices. Sixty percent of e-cigarette enthusiasts say they use the devices to stop smoking regular cigarettes.
Addictive potential for e-cigarettes
Similar to standard cigarettes, however, e-cigarettes may have addictive potential because of the nicotine e-juice option, and are increasingly viewed as a “gateway” to cocaine dependence.
This pattern has long been established in animal and human studies involving standard cigarettes, as nicotine is known to change the brain’s circuitry to enhance effects of other drugs. This pattern has not yet been replicated with e-cigarettes, but researchers speculate that there’s an equally strong effect.
Teens are especially vulnerable
Adolescents are at greater risk of addiction, as teen years are an especially critical period in brain development. For them, e-cigarettes containing nicotine could serve as a gateway to drugs such as cocaine.
The American Heart Association calls for stricter federal regulation of e-cigarettes. Public health officials are lobbying for interventions to prevent use of e-cigs and all nicotine-containing products.
Be vigilant in your own home
If you’ve got teens and pre-teens at home, be aware of paraphernalia that suggests e-cigarette use. Conduct research in order to recognize the devices, how they work, and what e-juice brands are available. These devices are easily hidden in pockets and purses.
Consider talking with kids about the realities of e-cigs. If a trusting, caring relationship exists, they will listen. If they know the risks and recognize sincere concern for their welfare, they will (hopefully) heed the warnings. They may even tell their friends. Perhaps this jumpstarts a grass roots movement steering kids away from e-cigs – at least in one corner of the world, anyway.