Nicotine addiction increases among adolescents

FDA cracks down on JUUL company for contributing to teen vaping

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Nicotine addiction increases among adolescents

Zoe Bodovinitz and Ana Marbett, News Editor and Editor in Chief

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JUUL Labs announced last week that the company will no longer be selling its flavored nicotine pods—including cool cucumber, mango, fruit medley and creme—due to mounting pressures from the FDA and accusations that the company targets minors. Since its launch in 2017, JUUL Labs’ product has become so popular among adolescents that kids are JUULing before ever smoking a cigarette.

As part of Nicotine Awareness Week, put on by ASB, an online survey was posted to test students’ knowledge on nicotine. 695 students participated. There were seven initial questions for everyone to answer. For the 146 students who answered that they use nicotine products, either occasionally or regularly, 14 more questions were added about their use.

One of the additional questions asked, “How regularly do you smoke or use other nicotine products?” Of the 146 participants, the majority said a few times a week, while 23 students said several times a day, and 25 students admitted to using nicotine every one to two hours while awake. 32.9 percent of that smaller group use nicotine multiple times a day. Yet for the following question, only 27.4 percent think they are dependent or addicted to nicotine.

An anonymous senior who admitted to being “violently” addicted to nicotine said that if they don’t get nicotine into their body for 24 hours, their skin starts to itch and they get incredibly irritable. For them, nicotine has become more important than a decision to quit ever could.

“On the one hand, it sucks to have a reliance on something, on anything because you have to spend time and money on it, but on the other hand nicotine has helped me through some of the hardest times,” they said. “When no one one else has been there for me nicotine was. I have a bond with my JUUL and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

According to the survey conducted by ASB, on a scale from one to five representing how unhealthy nicotine is, only 51 percent of all the students students who participated in the survey chose a five. A freshman, who will remain anonymous, said they would rather hit their JUUL than smoke cigarettes because they know people who have died due to nicotine related illnesses.

Although the long term effects of e-cigarettes and products like JUUL are still unknown, it is very clear that nicotine can have detrimental effects on the brain, and even more so on a developing brain. Drug and alcohol counselor Eddie Medina works with students who are suffering from addiction and knows a lot of kids who use nicotine products frequently.

“Teen brains are still developing, so right now the prefrontal cortex in our brains don’t fully develop until we are 25… meaning that if we are creating certain pathways of addiction, it makes it that much harder to undo that,” Medina said.

The “pathways of addiction” that Medina mentions are the patterns that occur when you reward yourself. Whether that be food, water, sex or a hit from a friend’s JUUL, when a brain likes something it releases dopamine—a chemical that causes pleasure. That happens when an addictive pathway is created because now the brain is craving that pleasure.

“The younger you start [using substances], the more years you’re going to have before your brain is fully developed, the stronger those addictive pathways are going to be,” Medina said.  “It makes it then easier to become addicted to other substances too because your brain is used to making those pathways of when I had this substance, I get this response, and I like it so I want it again. So then you just become more addicted to anything that you do.”

Many students use nicotine as a coping mechanism. As basic as it sounds, being a teenager is difficult and many people turn to substances for relief.

“Drugs and alcohol seem to be a fairly effective way of coping and its because they do work,” Medina said. “In the short term they are like a bandaid and they are going to make a person feel numb to certain things they don’t want to feel.”

But the effects of using substances are not a permanent fix for any hardships teens might be going through.

“It’s not worth it,” Medina said. “Drugs and alcohol may be a quick, simple, easy fix but in the long run it’s going to cause you more problems. Addiction is not a cure for mental health.”

Medina is available to students in the Teen Health Center Wednesdays and Fridays. He offers free, confidential counseling and is a great person to talk to if you are struggling with addiction or if a family member or friend is.

“There are so many adults who are passionate about helping people not struggle in life,” Medina said. “I think that there is a stigma around seeking counseling, and people don’t want to talk to someone they don’t know, they don’t want to seem weak or like they are messed up.”

There is a reason minors are not allowed to purchase or consume nicotine. And students are beginning to feel the effects. One student who answered to ASB’s survey said that they wish that they had never hit a JUUL and is now spending between $80 and $100 a month on nicotine products.

Whether it be stress, peer pressure, curiosity or other factors, the reason a student will pick up a JUUL ultimately comes from their own decision. While this problem won’t be solved by a company cutting back, it’s important for teens to be educated on what they are deciding to put into their bodies and how it will affect their future.

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