Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A new addiction’s on the rise, but vaping isn’t as safe as people may think

The JUUL is not a cigarette; the JUUL is a new threat
(Courtesy of Flickr: Creative Commons)

Most of us have seen people walking around campus, at the bars and even in class vaping, but how bad are e-cigarettes compared to tobacco? Certainly, no form of smoking is considered healthy, but most of us are unaware of what is actually going on in our bodies when we use a vape.

The most common vape used today is the JUUL, a small portable device that looks like a flash drive and charges from a USB. They were designed as a safer alternative for existing cigarette smokers to make the transition of quitting easier, but many people have picked up the habit of JUUL-ing without ever having been addicted to cigarettes. One JUUL pod contains about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes or “200 puffs” worth. The only carcinogen found is propylene glycol, which is in antifreeze and other additives for food, while cigarettes have over 60 known carcinogens.

Personally, I know a senior at UMass who has been using the JUUL since the summer, borrowing her friends’ when she was out drinking or hanging out. She bought her own JUUL over Christmas break and planned to use it only on special occasions or in social settings. Now, she uses it between classes or when she is home bored, taking multiple puffs per day. While she doesn’t consider herself addicted, she explained to me, “It’s just a convenient, relaxing thing to do, but I think I could stop whenever I want.”

Unlike the harmful smoke of tobacco, the main concern with JUUL-ing is not about getting cancer, but rather the affects that nicotine can have on the body. John Ross, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School, posted a statement in 2016 saying, “Nicotine in e-cigarettes may have several negative health effects. Chronic nicotine exposure may lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, although this risk may be offset by the well-known appetite suppressant effects of nicotine. Inhaled nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure. Nicotine is highly addictive in its own right, and it may lead to changes in the brain that increase the risk of addiction to other drugs, especially in young people.”

Nicotine is an alkaloid, chemically similar to caffeine and cocaine—a clear liquid in its purest form that turns brown when exposed to air. It is generally absorbed orally and distributed through the lungs, skin and stomach. Once it hits your brain, it stimulates dopamine transmission, which is your reward center responsible for mood elevation and apparent improvement in cognitive function. It also stimulates your serotonin and noradrenaline neurotransmitters, which are responsible for mood and stress hormones. Chronic stimulation by nicotine desensitizes the neurons that have an inhibitory effect on dopamine, which reinforces cravings and addiction over time. This explains why the same amount of nicotine will have less effect over time, because your body is building up a tolerance.

Once you are used to nicotine, going without it can lead to withdrawals including anxiety, restlessness, cravings and inability to concentrate. For cigarette smokers, this is why vaping can be a good way to transition into a smoke-free lifestyle. But vape users who did not previously smoke cigarettes are creating an addiction in their body that was not there before. Long story short, they are giving themselves a nicotine dependency by using a device that was made to help smokers quit.

According to Dr. Lester Hartman at Westwood Mansfield Pediatrics, the long-term effects of vaping are still unknown, since it is such a new phenomenon. The effects of second-hand smoke are also unknown, and use during pregnancy is not advised, though there have been no known side effects.

Additionally, underage use of vapes has become a widespread issue, according to The Boston Globe, and high school students are often going to the bathroom to use their JUUL or using it in class and blowing out the vapor when teachers aren’t looking. The JUUL company emailed the Globe in response to this issue saying, “JUUL Lab’s mission is to eliminate cigarette smoke by offering existing adult smokers with a better alternative to combustible cigarettes…We strongly condemn the use of our product by minors, and it is in fact illegal to sell our product to minors.”

The “starter kit” costs $49.99 on the company’s website, which comes with the rechargeable JUUL device, USB charger, a warranty and a four-pack of flavored pods. The refillable pods sell in separate packs of four for $15.99.

Using the JUUL is probably not the smartest decision, but it is a better alternative to smoking cigarettes, and as of now, there is no link between cancer and nicotine. Many students say vaping is just “a passing phase,” and it is something to do when you’re out drinking with your friends or hanging out. The JUUL may not kill you like tobacco will, but it is a quickly forming addiction that becomes an expensive habit over time.

Emily Medrek can be reached at [email protected].

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  • J

    John aimoFeb 17, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    Of course it’s going to cause cancer, it’s the smoking that causes lung cancer., it’s not the tobacco itself. When you vape , you are still inhaling a sort of smoke. It’s only a matter of deceitful marketing by vape companies and stupidity by the people who use who think that somehow that a nicotine product is magically safe and doesn’t have any health drawbacks.

    What is ignored also is that your inhaling pure nicotine unlike cigarettes which is tobacco which has nicotine and nicotine added to the cigarette. The health concerns is that you are using a product which made to be deliberately addicting and nicotine itself has serious health effects like effecting the nervous system and disturbing one’s sleep pattern.

    Nicotine as a chemical substance is so powerful, that a gram consumed would result in a person’s death