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The Other Addiction

November 03, 2018

I made a big mistake in college. Well, maybe a couple, but one stands out. It was the moment I picked up a cigarette. At the time I thought it was a fleeting, fun thing to do while sipping cheap Vodka at a campus party. But then one morning I woke up and realized I didn’t want a cigarette. I needed one.  Without realizing how it happened, I had become a smoker.

It took some 20 years to quit.  I tried many times, as most smokers do. The patch, the gum, the medication. Nicotine addiction is intense, and it happens fast. It is virtually impossible to explain to nonsmokers the agony of not feeding the addiction. And that is why I have become so concerned lately to learn of the skyrocketing popularity of vaping.

If you are unfamiliar, vaping involves electronic cigarettes through which one inhales a vapor that can and often does include nicotine. One of the most widely used products, “Juul,” looks like a flash drive and is easy to conceal.
These products may be marketed to adults trying to quit smoking real cigarettes but are increasingly popular with teenagers—14% of 10thgraders are reported to have used e-cigarettes in the last month. Meanwhile, 30% of teenagers who start with Juul end up smoking real, tar-based cigarettes (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

My understanding is that many teens (and even younger kids) think these products are harmless—and super cool. Young people may not even know the device delivers nicotine because they think it’s just tasty vapor (Juul comes in flavors like mango and crème brulee).

I raise this issue because I know hospitals and health care providers are working hard on it, and raising awareness that addiction to nicotine—regardless of the form in which it comes—is pointless and unhealthy. A few immediate ways we can continue the fight, and I welcome more:

  • Primary care physicians and pediatricians can help patients and parents understand that just because it does not involve tobacco or smoke, vaping is a dangerous addiction to be avoided.
  • Work with public health and business partners to provide resources and information about the vaping. Post messages in spaces where teenagers are likely to be—movie theaters, stores, fast-food establishments.
  • Talk with your own children and families about vaping to ensure the products in this category are understood for what they are and the risks they carry.
  • Address vaping as part of hospital and community smoking cessation programs.
  • Consider legislative or regulatory action to raise awareness and assist in prevention efforts.
    We have come a long way in combatting smoking. As someone who struggled with nicotine addiction, I do not want others to experience the difficulty of quitting, the pain of withdrawal, or the physical consequences of smoking. And I do not want to see today’s teenagers become tomorrow’s cigarette smokers.

Thanks for listening—and for your help!