Brankin: Stop normalizing nicotine usage

The normalization of nicotine use can have a profoundly negative effect on young people’s lives.

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Tara Brankin

When I was in my junior year of high school, I started noticing that my peers were starting to vape — inhaling nicotine vapor instead of smoke. Specifically, my classmates started to buy and use nicotine products called JUULs. I distinctly remember this dingy little gas station by my high school where everyone who vaped would go to buy JUUL cartridges during the weekends, usually before heading to a party. For those who don’t know, JUULs are an e-cigarette that have become extremely popular amongst teens because of the fruity flavors of their nicotine cartridges and because a lot of young people believe that vaping is safer than actual cigarettes, the latter of which is not true in the slightest. JUULs currently make up 72% of the e-cigarette market. As high school continued, JUULs got more and more popular, especially when the majority of my classmates turned 18 and were able to buy them legally.

Since I graduated from high school, vaping has only gotten more popular amongst teenagers, much more than actual cigarettes. A study done in 2020 found that 19.6% of high school students use e-cigarettes, while only 4.6% of high school students smoke actual cigarettes. The discrepancy between the amount of teenagers who use e-cigarettes and actual cigarettes is very large, and I attribute this to what I perceive as the normalization of vaping amongst teenagers and young adults. When I think back to the summer before college, I reflect upon how someone always had a JUUL at a party and how people would all take turns hitting it. As gross as this is, no one batted an eye. I am positive that we all knew it wasn’t good for us, but as I previously stated, we naively thought it was better than cigarettes.

While binge drinking is usually thought of as the most dangerous decision that young people can make, vaping is also incredibly detrimental to one’s health. In particular, nicotine use poses risks regarding brain development. Teenage brains are still developing and heavy nicotine use can negatively affect areas of the brain that regulate attention, learning and impulse control. Reading this research, I thought about my friends and peers in high school, who I suspected were addicted to nicotine, and I hope that these negative consequences do not affect them.

I am not trying to shame those who are still using nicotine products. I am aware that it is extremely addictive and incredibly hard to give up, especially if started at a young age. Like any addiction, I think many of my peers are in denial of being addicted to nicotine and maybe view it as less serious than other addictions. But clearly, nicotine can pose several detrimental consequences to the body, especially the brain, and it is important to reiterate that it is extremely dangerous to vape, and it is anything but normal.