OP ED – From Glitter Pens to Vape Pens: E-cigarettes and the Road to Teen Hospitalization

Less than half a decade ago, my friends and I were busy obsessing by the water  fountains who had the fancier set of gel pens. Walk into a middle or high school bathroom today and you’ll see smoke rising from the stalls. This isn’t a trend equivalent to Silly Bandz; it is the next health crisis that could be the reason children end up in hospitals as teens increasingly buy into the fad of vaping without understanding the severity of its adverse health implications.
It’s no secret that nicotine and aerosols are directly linked to negative health impacts; what then is holding us back from educating our community on their presence in vape pens? While there have been some lawsuits against Juul Labs, it’s the responsibility of parents, teachers and friends to unite in an effort to eliminate the appeal of this toxic product to under-aged children.
Unfortunately, it’s the under-21 age group that most heavily relies on vaping and experiences nicotine addiction’s consequences. People who smoke these e-cigarettes are inhaling aerosol and other toxins in heated liquid form that inflicts permanent damage on their lungs. The same logic that applies to traditional cigarettes is also relevant here; passive exposure to aerosols in vape pens is just as dangerous as second-hand cigarette smoke.
If the current rate of teenagers admitted to the hospital for breathing difficulties continues to increase, cases of “popcorn lung” will be the norm as more kids are plagued with inflamed airways and scarred air sacs. What is particularly striking is how a perfectly healthy person can develop a slew of respiratory difficulties in a short time, accompanied by ailments like extreme weight loss and chest pain. Once vaping is synonymous with this idea of compromised health, we can have the support we need of all the stakeholders in children’s welfare.
It’s clear that this public health issue permeates throughout many communities without adequate response from policymakers. Even my brother, a 10th grader at Crescenta Valley High School, comes home with stories of campus security officers dedicating their time and energy to prevent widespread use of these vape pens. Yet smoke puffs still rise from the back row of classrooms.
The moment teachers turn their backs the notion of vaping as a ticket to non-reversible respiratory disease is laughed off.
Nicotine is yet another component to e-cigarettes that disrupts the learning process and prevents memory storage and concentration. Turns out, about two-thirds of Juul users aged 15 to 24 don’t even know it contains nicotine no matter which type of device they purchase. Those who do know about the nicotine content and are unfazed by it have not been exposed to the vivid imagery of anti-cigarette ads from the late 1960s.
Regrettably, advertisements by companies like Juul are directed toward making the “pens” more attractive for the most naïve consumer base: youth.
Previously, California’s lawmakers were hesitant to restrict flavored vaping. Although there are now initiatives to ban this product for all ages, the general public should act now to prevent youth from spending their lunch hours asking each other to “hit that Juul.” The proper course of action is immediate formal education on the specific scientific effects e-cigarettes have on human bodies not only for students, but for parents as well. Choosing to remain silent is equivalent to valuing the e-cigarette industry over the health of our youth – if we ignore, we inadvertently promote.
Limiting the marketing of e-cigarettes is a great start, but there also needs to be a complementary shift in schools on increased education on the matter. Parents, check your kids’ backpacks, pant pockets and school supplies. The KitKat bar that’s been in their pencil box for the past few weeks might just not be what you think.
Vaping to modern teens is the what cigarettes were to Americans in the ’60s – it’s about time we learn from the past and prevent this entirely controllable epidemic from becoming a public health hazard once again. This implies not only actively enforcing schoolwide vaping bans, but collectively educating the younger generation and broader community on the imminent negative health effects. Schools are a place to learn, not to inhale the very chemicals that sent our grandparents to hospital rooms in waves only a decade ago.

Collett Simonian is a graduate of Crescenta Valley High School who attends UC Berkeley.