Nicotine is never safe

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Nicotine is never safe

A row of JUULs. Photo courtesy of

A row of JUULs. Photo courtesy of "The Verge."

A row of JUULs. Photo courtesy of "The Verge."

A row of JUULs. Photo courtesy of "The Verge."

Melissa Ellin, Editor in Chief

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When I grow up, I want to be an addict. Never heard that one before? That’s surprising considering how many young people use nicotine these days. Recently, a “Courier” survey found that 42 of 155 Solon High School (SHS) students use JUULs, a specific brand of e-cigarettes containing outrageously high levels of nicotine. Cigarettes are old news. Lung cancer? Pass! Vaping is in. There have even been nicotine toothpicks added to the mix.

Nicotine toothpicks are the epitome of addiction because they’ve been trending among teens. If sucking on a toothpick isn’t addiction at its worst, I don’t know what is. How did we get to this point? We always hear that smoking is bad, but what isn’t always stressed is the direct harm caused by nicotine.

Just because there aren’t as many toxins in e-cigarettes as there are in cigarettes, doesn’t make them safe. Nicotine is a serious factor. Soon enough, you’ll become dependent on nicotine, and as you’re tolerance builds, it’ll become harder and harder to quit.

“If there is no nicotine in that vape, or the electronic device, it doesn’t matter… they’re all the same thing,” D.A.R.E Officer Felton said. “If there’s nothing in there to keep you doing it, then why would you? What’s going to be the draw for the person? The nicotine is the draw. It’s going to change the dopamine levels in the brain. We know by science that’s gonna make you feel good.”

Which is exactly why some people use e-cigarettes, the drug. People with anxiety will use marijuana to calm them down. People with depression, or someone who’s feeling down, may want to use nicotine to boost their attitude. When you weigh in the fact that one JUUL pod has the nicotine equivalent of 20 cigarettes, the severity of the situation becomes clearer. Plus, after the initial high, you’re tolerance will build and then it’s game over. You’ll start looking for other ways to attain that feeling whether it be through harder drugs or more nicotine.

Taking in nicotine has a similar effect on the brain as heroin or cocaine. It may make you happy, but the come down can be severe, and with prolonged nicotine use, you’ll require the drug to actually maintain a normal level of dopamine. Meaning, without nicotine you’re moods will be completely unstable as if you had depression.

It’s also confirmed that, in the short time JUULs have been present, people who use them are likely to start smoking cigarettes. E-cigarettes, especially JUULs, have increased nicotine availability, and exacerbated the risk of addiction for users based on the excessive nicotine content.

“[With] nicotine, there’s just so many different ways to take it in now, which is scary, and what people don’t realize is that if you take in enough nicotine it can kill you,” said SHS Health teacher Melissa (Missy) Fitzgerald. “It’s such a high level of nicotine in these JUULs, it’s not gonna be good.”

It’s no different than alcohol. Too much, and you’re dead. You may think you’re fine. You may think you’re not addicted. You may think you can quit, but have you actually tried? Do it. Seriously. Take a week off and you may realize how much trouble you’ve actually gotten yourself into.

I know almost as well as anyone. My sister’s an addict. She started smoking cigarettes in high school, and now she can’t find the will to quit. It’s not a light switch. You can’t simply turn it on and off, and she suffers because of it. She’s even tried to vape, but found that it doesn’t bring the same effects as cigarettes do. At family dinners, whether they’re at home or in public, she always has to leave to smoke.

I have to worry all the time about her health too. She could get emphysema or lung cancer, and even if she did move on to vaping, more risks would be present. Nicotine alone increases the risk for strokes, blood clot formation and can intensify depression. For women, the danger is higher because they’ll be addicted when they’re pregnant, and their child will suffer. If a pregnant woman abuses nicotine her child will have an increased chance of becoming obese or infertile, getting type 2 diabetes or having high blood pressure or respiratory issues.

People may think it’s smoking cigarettes that causes these issues, but it’s actually the nicotine which is present in e-cigarettes too.

Another reason people vape is that they think it’s an act of rebellion. You just bought your JUUL? Congrats! Welcome to a lifelong, incurable addiction. Good on you. You’re. So. Cool.

Besides, wanna know what’s even more rebellious? Not JUULing or smoking! If you vape, you’re actually falling for a trap. It’s exactly what all the big companies want: naive teens such as ourselves to try their product, and then (fingers crossed!) get hooked.

“It’s a strategy to make money,” D.A.R.E Officer Joann Felton said. “Out of what expense? Kids.”

Some of you out there who are 18 may read this and think “I’m an adult. I can make my own decisions.” You’re absolutely right. Nobody is going to be there to stop you or hold your hand, but you better make sure you have all the facts before you do something you’ll regret.

This is what Felton has been trying to do with her middle school D.A.R.E. students. She believes the most important thing to know is the history behind vaping, which started with cigarettes.

“With tobacco, if we look at a long time ago, most kids will tell you that they knew the tobacco industry lied with what’s going on, and I’m like ‘Well huh, what’s going on with vapes?’” Felton said. “‘Do you really know what’s in them?’”

Nevertheless, there is a semi-positive aspect of e-cigarettes. They can be helpful to smokers trying to quit. My own aunt used one for this reason, but she was already a nicotine addict. She was trying to quit. Now that companies out there like JUUL have found their in with teens, they’ve leeched themselves to us, forgoing their original intentions simply for a profit.

“So if the companies are trying to sell a product, like ‘Oh yeah, this could be good for the person that’s trying to quit smoking,’” Felton said. “‘It’s a safer alternative’ You use that word safer alternative and people think ‘Oh, see? It’s safe. It can’t hurt you.’ So, is it a strategy to make money? Absolutely. What do e-cigarettes provide for anybody? Is there anything good out of it?”

There’s a reason the age for purchasing nicotine has been raised to 21 in Cleveland. Actually there are several: the brain isn’t fully developed until 25, 18-year-olds will circulate vapes to their high school friends and they’re a distraction to students (there are students who leave class every day just to JUUL). They’re so dependent on nicotine that they can’t go a few hours without it. The more they smoke, the closer they’re bringing themselves to death.

Even more pressing, all of these so-called “safe” products aren’t actually proven to be so. I can’t even tell you they’re unsafe (other than the obvious factor of nicotine). That’s part of the issue. We don’t genuinely know much about these devices. There hasn’t been enough time for data to collect.

“Some say that there are dangerous chemicals contained on the unit that when heated and inhaled may be dangerous,” a survey respondent said. “However, it’s not clear as of yet… Nicotine is addictive no matter the form it’s taken in but it seems that the JUUL has less of the dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes. Until more research is done and a proper answer is concluded, the simple answer to whether they’re bad or not is ‘We don’t know.’”

Are you willing to risk death because nothing has been proven?

Even the knowledge regarding the ingredients in the JUUL pods is tainted. It’s nearly impossible to figure out the health risk when you can’t tell what all of the components are.

“It’s like a cereal box,” Felton said. “You get a box of cereal and you can read all the ingredients on it. I said ‘Did you ever by chance look at the little ingredients on the e-juice bottle? Can you read the ingredients on it?’ Half of them you can’t even read and you weren’t required to have them on there, so the print on them is so small… what’s the fine print on them? How are you going to read? It’s like prescription drug commercials… It’s kind of misleading.”

Nevertheless, I get it. Peer pressure is an extenuating circumstance, and I’m not here to bring you down if this is how got you started with nicotine. However, peer pressure is also an excuse. If you enjoyed the feeling from that first time, then continued to JUUL or smoke, you were making a conscious decision. The blame is solely on you for continuing to abuse the drug. Additionally, peer pressure is everywhere. By now, we should all be experts at saying no. At some point, it’s time to take responsibility for your actions. You made your bed, now lie in it, or preferably, climb the heck out.

At the end of the day, there’s only so much I can do. There are infinite ways I could reword my argument. Thousands of tactics I could employ. Facts, the scare-factor, an emotional plea, but it all boils down to the same thing: nicotine will never be a good choice. Vaping may be cool now, but 10, 20 years from now, you’ll still be an addict. 50 years from now, research may find it deadly, and it may not, but it will never change the fact that nicotine is present.

Ask yourself, what’s the point? I don’t see one.

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