Smokers in the new generation
E-cigarettes have been around for years now with Juul taking the helm “with the goal to provide a satisfying alternative for adult smokers” according to their website. Are the effects of an e-cigarette that much lower than regular cigarettes? Current research from publications in the England Public Health suggest no, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t risks.
If burn temperatures are increased there is the risk of what is commonly referred to as a dry puff, where the smoke released is harsher than that of a regular puff. The dry puff occurs when the e-cigarettes are placed at maximum power and puffs are set to last approximately 4-5 seconds; it can also occur when liquid levels are low, and the temperature is high. The liquid in the cigarettes when burned at these high temperatures releases formaldehyde which can be dangerous in large quantities. Seasoned smokers of e-cigarettes know to avoid these harsher puffs, but people who are new to the products may be at risk to inhale.
This is important to note because Juul has become under fire for their targeting of youth, who would have no experience. From young people in their advertisements, to launch parties, social media influencers, flavoured pods and bright colours, these things are what market advisors claim to be associated with targeting younger people. There has been a surge of new young nicotine smokers and although that cannot be directly connected to Juuls, it appears that they are the most prominent e-cigarette on the market which causes suspicion. The dangers of young people not familiar with smoking these devices is real; though they would come to recognize the difference of a dry puff with practice, they will still inhale dangerous chemicals while learning.
As someone who has never smoked but has lived in multiple households of tobacco chewers and smokers, I can’t speak to the personal benefit of switching from smoking to vaping. I can, however, say that while there isn’t the same lingering stench and thick smoke that once came with cigarettes, there is a distinct smell that goes beyond the different flavours of e-cigarette liquids. It’s artificial smelling, with something akin to essential oils lining the stale water vapor. It does not promote confidence that these are a healthy alternative. I have also witnessed that while the nicotine quantity can be reduced to minimal quantities (even zero) in some devices, the act of smoking often increases drastically because it appears healthier and more puffs are needed to satisfy the nicotine addiction.
The people who smoke these devices also promote it as an aesthetic, a similar tactic used by the big tobacco brands for years. I’ve had people come up to me saying, “Watch what I can do!” and blow smoke rings. The difference being that water vapor is longer lasting than the smoke from cigarettes and it is often used for tricks. Trick competitions have begun and gained sizeable notoriety which only further promotes usage. As we approach the release of shorter long-term studies and we’re seeing early effects of these devices and it is minimal, but it will be years before any conclusive evidence will show what impact these devices have and how we will change our perception of them.
These devices are dangerous in my opinion, because we don’t know the long-term effects of the chemicals used, but we do know the effects of things like nicotine. To boot, watching important people in my life increase their puff count and have it so easily switched to cigarettes when drinking alcohol, does not incite confidence that these products have the intended effect. As a preservice teacher, I do see my students, some as early as 12 years old, smoking e-cigarettes and it breaks my heart. Some parents aren’t phased and say “well, it could be cigarettes” as if that excuses the behaviour. Policies have since been implemented banning the devices from schools, but if my youth taught me anything, kids are crafty, and they can always find a work around. It begs the question of companies like Juul, who are under fire: why don’t they release pods that don’t have any nicotine? That way if kids do manage to get a device, they have the option to be nicotine free. The war on drugs was not an effective tool in substance management and educating kids with limited research won’t have the same result to inform, so why not educate them on the substances we are familiar with such as nicotine. By offering them this information, any young people who are smoking can make an informed decision on what they put in their bodies.
From what I have seen, when e-cigarettes are used with the intended purpose and are monitored by users, then they are effective tools to reduce the damages of smoking. I don’t like them, but they are the lesser of two evils.