If you walk into a classroom of 40 high school students, how many of those students would you expect to have tried or used e-cigarettes? According to the 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), 15 of those 40 students (or 37.5% of high school students) would have tried e-cigarettes. Compared to data from previous years (27.3% in 2014 NYTS), there is a distinct increase in usage. Yet, cigarette smoking among youth has been on the decline for many years.
So why is this happening?
Some researchers predict that marketing is behind the increasing trend. However, a combination of social media, peer pressure, lack of regulation, marketing, and lack of knowledge all contributed to the increased e-cigarette usage.
As much as some people think that peer pressure isn’t an issue, it’s actually a much larger problem than what people make of it. When peers offered me an e-cigarette, two thoughts ran through my head: do I try it once to fit in, or should I “just say no to drugs?” The fear of judgment from peers stood opposite the reality that one e-cigarette could become a new habit.
Adolescents are still developing their prefrontal cortices and aren’t prepared to make these type of decisions: they have a long way to go before they fully develop their morals and ethics completely. And it’s no easy task in an environment where peer pressure remains a strong influence.
Social media plays a role too. Often times, I would see my peers on Snapchat posting videos of themselves vaping. E-cigarettes are plastered all over Instagram by accounts such as @officialvgod and @vapetricks, who both have over 300,000 followers, and endorsed by celebrities like DJ Khaled, Drake and Bruno Mars.
Similar to how smoking cigarettes in the 1950’s was made sexy by Jimmy Dean and Frank Sinatra, are e-cigarettes the new sexy thing now? In addition, tutorial videos on YouTube teach teens how to do specific tricks.
To be frank, descriptions and pop-ups of “21+” or “Must Be of Legal Vaping Age” don’t change that these pages are accessible to anyone, no matter the age. On the contrary, cigarette advertising has been banned for decades on platforms like TV and radio.
Why isn’t e-cigarettes getting similar restrictions – especially when e-cigarette use is increasing drastically among minors?
The marketing techniques implemented and the lack of restriction by retailers magnifies the problem further. Starting off with packaging, e-cigarette companies use vibrant colors, fruity smells, and captivating flavors to target a young audience, sweetening the image of e-cigarettes.
According to USDA Economic Research Service, the average children under 12 consumes 49 pounds of sugar per year, showing the effectiveness of labeling. It’s no wonder that e-cigarette companies utilize that same impulse. In fact, it’s been used by tobacco companies by before: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2014 that 73% of high school students and 56% of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time.
The lack of regulation by retailers doesn’t alleviate the situation either. Some of my friends said that they’re able to walk in and purchase e-liquid or e-cigarettes without ever showing their driver’s licenses because they looked old enough. Really? The fact that this problem exists is alarming. E-cigarette usage is already increasing at a consistent rate, and the attractive labels and absence of regulation just add fuel to the fire that should be extinguished.
At a first glance, e-cigarettes may seem fun and harmless. But that’s because many students don’t know that e-cigarettes are a health risk.
With the smoke aspect eliminated, many students view it as just flavoring and white vapor. However, according to a study done at Virginia Commonwealth University, e-cigarettes may have a higher delivery rate of nicotine than cigarettes. Keep in mind, nicotine is considered one of the most addictive substances in the world. And adding to that, nicotine and other toxic chemicals produced by e-cigarettes can potentially cause various forms of cancer and chronic diseases. Students don’t know all these effects exist; they just assumed there was none.
Overall, these are some of the major factors behind the rise of e-cigarette usage.