Nicotine/Nico-TEEN? Here’s Why NOT

TEENS want to know: WHY are adults freaking out and taking away their “harmless” JUULs (the most popular e-cigarette) when teens have REAL problems (like active shooters, social media stress, and impossible college admissions?)

DON’T ROLL YOUR EYES, this is a legit question from our teens. Let’s talk nicoTEEN!

Last week, Austin high school SENIOR GIRLS shared with me that well over HALF of their peers are JUULing regularly at school. (Rapidly outdated/underestimated studies from 2016 show that over 9% of 8th graders and 16% of high school students Juul.) These are the very kids who grew up professing “smoking is GROSS” to total strangers, complete with gagging motions, nose-holding and coughing dramatics. They KNOW smoking causes bad breath, yellow teeth and CANCERS (plus heart attacks and strokes). WHY then, are they now carelessly JUULing, typically with no thought or concern of any connection with “real” cigs and REAL health hazards. A good chunk of JUUL-ers don’t have any idea what’s INSIDE these devices, and if they DO know nicotine is in there, they think it’s no big deal, because it’s SMOKING that’s, bad, not VAPING. However, the adolescent brain is far more susceptible to nicotine addiction than more fully developed/more myelinated older brains, and we know that nearly a THIRD (30.7%, less I exaggerate) of teens who start using e-cigarettes begin smoking traditional cigarettes within six months. YES, a THIRD. Why? NICOTINE.

What does NICOTINE do? Smoking or VAPING nicotine zips it into the bloodstream (vs. slower absorption through the nose, gums or skin). Once in the bloodstream, nicotine races to the adrenal glands, releasing ADRENALINE for the physical “rush”: the racing pulse, faster breathing and raised blood pressure. The BRAIN interprets these bodily changes as excitement or joy, while the nicotine inside the brain triggers the pleasure/reward circuits via DOPAMINE stimulation. All of this happens within about 10 seconds after inhalation, creating a very short-lived euphoria from each nicotine hit (puff of a cigarette or JUUL). The key here is SHORT, which means the body immediate craves MORE. Fast forward to someone habitually recreating that burst of pleasure, when smoking/vaping/Juuling becomes a constant companion throughout the day. Soon this repeated exposure to nicotine goes beyond the short term buzz and begins adversely affecting higher level brain circuits like learning processes and impulse-control. Continued usage requires more nicotine to get that same pleasure and bodily response, and soon simply LACK of nicotine creates withdrawal symptoms of cravings, agitation, sleep disturbance, poor concentration and irritability. Nicotine is WILDLY addictive, and although there are clearly individual sensitivities to that addiction, this is not a substance to casually “try out” for awhile.

E-Cig Abuse (beyond nicotine addiction) is quickly evolving. Many users feel a transient sharpening of their focus and attention that is less intense but similar to prescription stimulants used for ADD. College students who JUUL tell me not only do they use it as a stimulant “hit” before taking a test, but as a steady drip to keep them focused during studying. Worse, some JUUL at the end of a party night (translation binge drinking) to “sober up” before driving home. News flash- stimulants do NOT “un-do” sedatives. Just as coffee doesn’t sober up a drunk; nicotine does not improve the reaction times and reflexes that alcohol (pot, or other sedatives) slow down- you simply become a more awake and agitated drunk. Other young people use JUULing to suppress their appetite or to catch a “confidence buzz” without adding calories. Once again, the more you use nicotine, the less it works; the more you need, the more you use…lather, rinse, repeat.

Does nicotine cause cancer? No, not by itself. But nicotine doesn’t travel alone. In traditional cigs, nicotine travels with over 60 known carcinogens. In e-cigs, nicotine hooks up with metals like nickel, cadmium & chromium, plus other known carcinogens. E-cig vapor flavorings and volatile organic compounds can directly cause acute and chronic lung inflammation and disease. Since we’ve only had a decade of e-cig experience (and most cancers take a couple decades to develop) we don’t have all the oncologic answers but CANCER is not the only concern.

Perhaps the worst thing nicotine does is GET YOU ADDICTED TO NICOTINE. You being to spend all day thinking about your next “hit” and get physically and mentally cranky without it. Nicotine is not FREE, so you are also steadily draining your wallet (~$4/pod/day or $6/pack of cig/day x one year is $1800!) Ask ANY and EVERY adult you know that smokes how many times they have tried to quit…that answer alone will tell you why parents are beating their heads against walls watching their kids choose to “try” nicotine.

PS. Please note that e-cigs sometimes EXPLODE– about 1000/year sending users to US emergency rooms. 80% of these random explosions happen during charging, which means 20% occur while vaping- exploding your tongue/mouth/face along with the device.

BOTTOM LINE: JUULs and other nicotine delivery systems like e-cigs are NOT “harmless” but they ARE a fantastic way to acquire a financially, physically and emotionally life-long addiction. E-cigs were designed to HELP ADDICTED SMOKERS STOP SMOKING- let’s LIMIT them to this use. 



2 thoughts on “Nicotine/Nico-TEEN? Here’s Why NOT”

    • That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? The FDA stepping in and now Juul is at least taking away the “kid” flavors and only leaving menthol- that’s a start. Talking to them more about nicotine really does make a difference; saying “don’t vape” just makes them tune us out, because they truly believe vaping is harmless. Thanks for your comment!


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