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SINGH: Bandwagon mentality contributes to e-cigarrete epidemic

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If you were to take a stroll from the College Avenue Student Center all the way to Scott Hall, I guarantee you would notice several of your fellow students whipping out their small, sleek, USB-like devices, to take an inhale and release a cloud of smoke. It seems like e-smoking has become a ubiquitous activity as many of us either personally use e-cigarettes or know others that do. 

The purpose of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, is to help those who smoke quit or reduce smoking actual cigarettes. These devices aim to mirror cigarettes without the burning of tobacco and are fairly low maintenance. There are two types of e-cigarettes — the disposable ones and the ones that are reusable with rechargeable batteries that use refillable cartridges. These cartridges contain a solution, also known as e-juice or e-liquid, that uses the same base, propylene glycol, that is found in inhalers. This base is mixed with nicotine extract from tobacco to produce the solution. Many times vaporizer brands better market their cartridges by offering them in various flavors such as mint, mango, watermelon and other flavors. By advertising the product as cool and safe, big brands are keen to attract and sell to teenagers. 

Many young adults and teenagers see their friends use vaporizers and are quick to join the bandwagon as these devices make smoking look fun. All it takes is a quick inhale from the mouthpiece and out comes a fruity cloud, almost like magic. As a result of its glamour, the e-cigarette is losing its key purpose and is straying down a divergent path where users who have never smoked find themselves puffing on one of these devices. I have witnessed friends, who have never smoked a cigarette a day in their life, join the Juul trend. Juul is among the top brands in the e-cigarette industry among MarkTen, Vuse, Blu and Logic. These five brands make up 97 percent of the e-cigarette market, and Juul alone controls nearly 70 percent of the market. The feature that brought Juul its surge of popularity is the distinct shape of the device. Juuls resemble a flash drive and are quite discrete to carry, as they can fit in a closed fist, and can be used in public places. 

I believe the phenomena that resulted in this widespread trend of smoking e-cigarettes is groupthink. Groupthink is an occurrence in which the group members of a society strive for a consensus, thereby setting aside their own personal beliefs just to adopt the opinion of the rest of the group. Similarly, teens see their own friends smoking on these seemingly harmless apparatuses and join the bandwagon without doing extensive research on their end. If they spent even 5 minutes researching the product, many users would be horrified to learn that a single Juul pod (the e-cigarette cartridge) is approximately equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes or taking 200 puffs of cigarettes. Any smoking user can tell you just how addictive of a drug nicotine is. Evidence suggests that nicotine exposure during adolescence has serious detrimental long-term effects on the developing brain. Furthermore, consistent use puts the user at a serious risk of lung diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis. Other effects include further aggravation of asthmatic symptoms, risk of heart disease, cancers of the mouth, kidney, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, stomach, pancreas, cervix, ureter and bladder. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acknowledged the epidemic of e-cigarette use that has blown out of proportion among the youth. The organization's commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, released a statement and said, “We’re committed to the comprehensive approach to address addiction to nicotine that we announced last year. But at the same time, we see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger. This starts with the actions we’re taking today to crack down on retail sales of e-cigarettes to minors.” The FDA is striking down on the big name e-cigarette companies to limit product access to minors as more than 2 million middle and high school students are current users. E-cigarette use has risen 900 percent from 2011 to 2015 among high school students, and vaping is now the most popular intake of tobacco use among teens.

The federal law prohibits sales of such products to those younger than 18, thus there is a dire need for changes in both policy and consequences to ensure that the younger generation does not get hooked on vaping. The purpose of e-cigarettes is to help smokers become non-smokers, but instead has had the reverse effect, turning non-smokers into cold nicotine addicts. Your bodily intake facilitates your health, thus it cannot be emphasized enough to research the ingredients and their effects before consumption or you may suffer from clearly foreseen side effects.

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Here's to Your Health," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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