ACS CAN volunteers attended many Pride events across the country in June in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month.
My name is Jake Warn and I’m a 19 year old from Winslow. I’d like to share my story – what I experienced in high school and I’m now seeing in college. E-cigarettes have completely taken over the school systems. When I was in high school, the bathrooms were filled with 10 – 12 kids every break between classes ripping their Juul/E-cig product. Young adults and teens don’t see the connection between e-products and cigarettes. The dangers and addiction to nicotine are not recognized by my age group and younger. Some e-cig products like Juul have just as much nicotine within a ‘pod’ as a pack of cigarettes. The pod is a small juice cartridge that contains nicotine, flavoring (most often fruit flavors) and chemicals. These pods are much more easily sold for 5 dollars a piece, which is a reasonable price for middle school, high school and college students with low budgets. For these reasons, E-Cigs and Juul have created its own underground network system that has completely spread throughout the schools. With no exaggeration, while I was in high school my senior year, roughly 85% of students were using these products. After a few weeks of using these devices, it becomes part of your life. Without even realizing it, you are addicted. It’s such the norm now, it’s like having a cell phone.
E-cigs and Juul were part of the social scene throughout my high school career. All groups in school were using, athletes, nerds, weirdos, and motor heads. I had always had an e-cig product throughout high school. Empire Vape would have game night at their vape lounge. It would be filled with high schoolers and young adults. We are the consumer for this product, and it was geared towards us, the new consumers. I would go there all the time at 16 and 17 with no issue. If a store owner claims we aren’t allowed, they are flat out lying. E-cig and Juul products were at our constant fingertips, ordering these products with ease on sites like ebay and Facebook Marketplace.
Once I got to college, where I was playing for an intense D2 soccer program, I bought my first Juul. I didn’t think it would become a problem for me since I was a driven college athlete, and while I knew my parents were very concerned about me using e-cigarettes, I would dismiss their concern. I had done my research and even told my parents that. But by the middle of the fall season, I was buying two packs per week at Cumberland Farms, (8 pods total – per week) and it had completely taken over my life. I was spending much more than my budget for the week on this product. I started to rely on my Juul for my daily tasks, and I couldn’t go without because it would affect my mood and attitude too much to be productive at the level I needed to be at. I was anxious, irritable and very angry, and this is in addition to the physical effects, not feeling healthy and coughing.
I am watching adults pointing the finger at each other. Parents didn’t do their job, teachers aren’t paying attention, consequences aren’t strict enough. But I think law-makers let their guard down to tobacco companies. The tobacco settlement money that comes into this state was used for other programs and was used to fill budget holes. Now my generation is paying the price. There was nothing out there educating me on the dangers of e-cigarettes and Juul and the tobacco industry took advantage of that. There was nothing telling me and my peers that nicotine is a highly addictive drug and we could be setting ourselves up for a lifetime of addiction. We knew cigarettes were bad and I would have never smoked a cigarette. I didn’t view e-cigarettes as a tobacco product and I was wrong. Taxing e-cigarettes at the same rate as cigarettes will not only make them more expensive, making it harder for high-schoolers and college students to afford, but using the revenue to increase funding for tobacco prevention and cessation efforts, means more will be done to fight back against the tobacco industry. Campaigns will be run to tell kids, their parents, and the adults who work with kids the truth about these products. More attention can be focused on efforts to help kids quit, schools can be educated on what to look out for, youth can be trained to share their stories, efforts can be carried out to shut down underground markets, and more. You have a chance to do something right now to take one step in the right direction. Believe me this cannot wait, this is addiction. We need to stop this problem before it gets worse or a whole generation will be paying the price.