It’s no secret that an abundance of high school students vape, but it’s difficult to gauge just how widespread it has become because people don’t usually talk about it openly outside of their friend groups. According to Betsy McKay and Jennifer Maloney of The Wall Street Journal, high school e-cigarette use has risen about 75% since 2017.
The first commercially successful e-cigarette was made in 2003 by Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist whose father died of cigarette-based lung cancer. While these devices have been proven to be less deadly than cigarettes, they are far from healthy and still deliver harmful and potentially toxic chemicals. Their original purpose was to help heavy smokers quit, officially called Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, which has been working for some. However, millions of non-smokers, a large amount of them adolescents, use ENDS for recreational purposes.
Juul has been taking the lead in e-cigarette sales (now worth more than $38 billion USD), possibly due to the variety of flavors available, but what seems to be keeping people hooked is the 5% nicotine content, unlike other vape companies that limit their nicotine to approximately 1.7%. Victoria Davis, Juul Labs Senior Director of Communications, has claimed that “Juul is intended for adult smokers only who want to switch from combustible cigarettes. We cannot be more emphatic on this point: No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try Juul.”
E-cigarette companies have been getting increasingly popular, scarily enough— the products they sell are free of the taxes placed on traditional cigarettes in most states and have a more easily accepted appearance as well. Sales have skyrocketed, more than tripling since 2014. It’s important to know that vape is a highly addictive drug that, like all other drugs, makes the consumer release an amount of dopamine that is much greater than any natural activity.
Given that dopamine causes people to become chemically happy, using an e-cigarette causes people to need it in order to experience happiness— anything that brought you happiness prior to use, such as playing sports or painting or hanging out with friends, will pale in comparison. In the same process, repeated and habitual vaping during adolescent years 12-18 is much more dangerous than later in life because major brain changes, proliferation, pruning, and myelination take place during that time. This means that vaping will become hardwired into the brain.
Major brain development, most importantly in the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for judging consequences in order to make intelligent decisions, finishes at 25 years. Teenage and young adult vulnerabilities such as this may be greatly contributing to the immense quantity of sales that are student purchases, and it definitely doesn’t help that companies may be targeting them in particular because of these cerebral functions. High school vaping makes for a lifetime customer, after all.