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Earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, declared vaping among children and teenagers a public health epidemic. Vaping has become incredibly popular among adolescents. According to the national 2018 Monitoring the Future survey, 42% of American 12th graders have smoked an e-cigarette at least once in their lives. Additionally, about 10% of 8th graders, 22% of 10th graders, and 27% of 12th graders smoked e-cigarettes at least once during the month before the survey. A variety of e-cigarettes flavors, celebrity endorsements for Juul and other brands, and social media marketing campaigns for vaping have all appealed to young people who want to have fun and join a trend. The common belief that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes has also helped convince many young people to give vaping a try.
However, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, the addictive chemical present in regular cigarettes, even though some young smokers think their e-cigarettes only contain water or “just flavoring.” According to Dr. Adams, nicotine is “uniquely harmful” to the developing brains of people under the age of 25. Doctors are increasingly witnessing children and teenagers suffering from health problems and behavioral changes as a result of developing nicotine dependence from vaping.
We’ve seen a real influx in the number of phone calls that we’re getting for kids who need substance use evaluations and, remarkably, we’re seeing a big increase in the number of kids who are coming in specifically to be evaluated for nicotine and Juuling problems.
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Dr. Levy claims that many young people with vaping habits develop problems with concentrating in school, begin to withdraw from family and friends, act aggressively, and exhibit signs of nicotine withdrawal, such as stomach pain, fatigue, and headaches. Doctors and addiction specialists have also raised concerns that young people who smoke e-cigarettes may be “priming” their brains for substance abuse later in their lives.
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Luka Kinard was one normal American high-schooler who became addicted to nicotine through vaping. By age 15, Luka was spending $150 every week on e-cigarette pods. His grades collapsed and he started isolating himself from his family and his favorite sports. His parents also reported that Luka’s personality changed, and he frequently became angry and irritable. Once Luka started vaping, he quickly became addicted to the nicotine in e-cigarettes. His life only began to change after he suffered a seizure, a possible symptom of nicotine poisoning. This prompted his parents to send him to a 40-day rehab program. With professional treatment and guidance, Luka recovered from his nicotine addiction.
Unfortunately, some vaping adolescents do not recover. One pediatrician, Dr. Kirsten Hawkins, notes that she is seeing more patients between the ages of 12 and 20 who are “juuling” regularly. One of her patients, a 12-year old girl, became so addicted to nicotine through vaping that she switched to regular cigarettes and started smoking two packs every day. In another case, Francis Thompson, a school principal in Connecticut, discovered that many of his students were skipping class to congregate in bathrooms to vape. Thompson takes the risks of nicotine addiction so seriously that he refers all of his students who use e-cigarettes to a counselor. Thompson and Luka Kinard’s parents both offer the same advice to parents: be vigilant, because vaping is easy to hide.
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