We are sisters, native San Diegans, and students who used to be part of the Poway Unified School District. We grew up during the vaping epidemic and have observed the evolution of the popularity of e-cigarettes among middle school, high school and college students.
Looking back, the epidemic was evident when teachers started limiting bathroom time because students were vaping in the stalls. During lunch and breaks, teachers began monitoring students going into and out of the bathrooms. Despite teachers’ vigilance, vapes are small devices that are easy to hide from adults and students continue to use them in school bathrooms.
Although it is illegal to purchase these products while under the age of 21, there are many smoke shops or stores that sell to teenagers. Word about shops that sell to minors spread quickly around campus among friend groups. We personally know of several students who are able to obtain access to vaping products who have not been caught by parents, teachers or administrators.
Unfortunately, these preventative measures have been unsuccessful at preventing the worsening of this problem. As students who witness vaping, many of our classmates and peers unfortunately do not understand the addictiveness of nicotine and may not even realize the chemicals that are present in what they are consuming due to the intentional vagueness with the labels on their products.
To fit in, many students succumb to peer pressure as they witness their friends and those around them vape in everyday life and at parties, even if they understand the dangers of vaping and sharing e-cigarettes. We have heard our own friends tell us, “I only smoke in social situations, I would never smoke regularly.”
Unfortunately, this is how dependence starts.
As we watch our peers fall prey to Big Tobacco’s propaganda, we are worried about their lung health and the long-term consequences of nicotine dependence. Some of our classmates have built tolerance and dependence to the nicotine in their products and vape several pods a day. This is especially concerning considering that teenagers who vape are more likely than their non-vaping peers to smoke cigarettes in the future.
This dangerous dependence on nicotine urges action from school districts and government agencies to restrict access to these vapes and provide better education about the health risks of vaping.
Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer and studies have begun to produce evidence that e-cigarettes harm lung health and increase risk of lung injury. Additionally, vaping has been linked to heart disease and irreversible lung damage and lung disease. These risks, combined with the addictiveness of the nicotine found in e-cigarettes, place e-cigarette users at risk for chronic health issues.
As youth advocates, we hope to educate and prevent future lung cancer cases among our peers and friends. No one should have to suffer from lung cancer, and no one should have to watch their loved ones pass away from such a devastating disease, which is why we are writing this article: the vaping epidemic and health consequences associated with it is unlikely to end unless we restrict access to vapes and educate teenagers and young adults about the risks of vaping.
So what can you do about this public health issue? Your voice as a voting constituent matters: vote for representatives who are dedicated to opposing Big Tobacco and restricting the sale of vape products. Talk to representatives about legislation and policies aimed to reduce access to vapes and about imposing FDA restrictions on e-cigarettes. Join campaigns and coalitions dedicated to protecting kids from the influence of Big Tobacco.
Advocate for the inclusion of e-cigarettes in smoke-free indoor air policies and educational initiatives about the risks of vaping. Advocate against advertisements and marketing that target young adults and teenagers and stricter restrictions against Big Tobacco.
Vaping is a public health epidemic that we can fight against as a united community.
Vivian Nguyen is a graduating senior from the University of California, Berkeley, and is planning to attend Harvard Medical School in the fall. She is the student co-founder of San Diego Pediatricians for Clean Air.
Alice Nguyen is a graduating senior from Westview High School and a youth leader of an anti-vaping project as an intern of the San Diego Pediatricians for Clean Air.