Experts: Vaping could lead to serious health risks

By Byron Patten - Staff Reporter

Electronic cigarettes have become a new popular alternative to smoking among youth, but some officials are concerned that a product designed as an alternative to cigarettes are a health hazard in itself.

Electronic cigarettes are traditionally used for weaning smokers off cigarettes. The small devices convert liquid nicotine into vapor, allowing it to be inhaled.

Since its commercial release in 2003, there are now an estimated 460 electronic-cigarette brands on the market. Increasingly popular brands in the United States include Juul and Fix, Juul contributing to about half the current market.

"I see young people using them quite often, especially at the smoking zones on campus," said student Maegan Gomez. "We see them all over social media and at Highline from time to time. They are pretty socially acceptable."

In a survey on youth and their usage of electronic-cigarettes, conducted by the Washington state Department of Health, grades 8-12 had a significant increase in electronic cigarette/vape usage between 2012 and 2014.

In King County alone, there was an increase from 3 percent to 14 percent in a 30-day usage, according to King County Public Health.

Gomez said she was not surprised by the increasing usage.

"My teacher even mentioned it in class the other day," Gomez said. "They told us it is not as bad when compared to other drugs." "I see young and old people using it," said Highline student Baby Thapa. "But I feel like the kids do it for fun, while the older people are doing it to stop using cigarettes."

The devices are notable for their USB drive-like appearance that can easily be disguised in classroom settings.

"The device at first glance is almost indistinguishable," said Highline student Blake who did not disclose his last name. "Many teachers also don't know about Juul, making it easy to bring around school."

Because of the similar appearance, some schools are having to crack down on USB usage to prevent potential electronic cigarettes being charged and even used within school.

"Besides Juul, there are quite a lot of other options and none of them look like cigarettes," Blake said.

According to the Juul creators, the small design of the Juul was designed to take smokers off the appearance of cigarettes.

Another attractive aspect to some are the flavors. Juul and similar brands have a wide variety of flavors, such as mango, mint or berry.

"Smoking one [e-cig] doesn't feel like a cigarette," Blake said. "They smell and taste way better."

"I think cigarettes are nasty to be around," Thapa said. "They have tar-like smell and chemicals. E-cigs in comparison are much better to be around with secondhand smoke [issues] and I would think less harmful."

Some students claim electronic-cigarettes cannot be compared to cigarettes.

"People don't think they are good for you," Blake said. "They realize they're bad, but they are nothing compared to an actual cigarette, which does way more damage. They don't have near the same number of chemicals."

Despite potential risk of nicotine addiction, Blake said Juul and other similar products aren't of consequence.

"They are not at the point where their lungs start failing on them," Blake said. "Those are the people who have been smoking cigarettes for years upon years. Juul has only really been around for a few months."

A large marketing position of e-cig brands is that they are tobacco-free. Tobacco smoke often contains many harmful chemicals, like carbon monoxide, which is released in car exhaust fumes, and formaldehyde, an embalming fluid.

However, according to the Food and Drug Administration, electronic-cigarettes contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals that users can be exposed to, as well, despite being tobacco-free.

The FDA detected in the liquid cartridges of electronic cigarettes formaldehyde, a chemical known to cause cancer in humans.

"I think even if people know how bad they are for you, they will keep doing it," Thapa said. "The same goes for cigarettes, alcohol. We all know it's poison, but we still do it."

Students smoking Juul, or another electronic cigarette brand on campus are reminded to smoke only at designated smoking zones. Smoking elsewhere on campus is prohibited.

According to King County Public Health, "Vaping or use of e-cigarettes in public places and places of employment is prohibited, just like smoking."

They also have laws against minors using nicotine products, saying, "Sale of e-cigarettes and nicotine products to minors under 18 years of age is prohibited."

Gomez believes the usage of nicotine and electronic cigarettes isn't likely to decrease.

"I think its popular only because it's trending. It used to be vaping now its juuling, I don't know what will be next," Gomez said. "Nicotine will always be popular, I think. People are just tired of the cigarette."

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