All I know for sure is that both wanted a fix, and I was tempted to let them have it.
It was the spring of 2014 and, for the first time in nearly two decades, I had no nicotine in my system. I had snuffed out smokeless tobacco a few years earlier and managed to ween myself off cigarettes – which made me cough and wheeze and worry about the condition of my heart and lungs.
But the first few days without them were difficult, to say the least. I craved nicotine so much that I welcomed secondhand smoke and kept thinking about ways I could reintroduce the addictive stimulant into my bloodstream.
I considered the gum, the patch, taking up dipping again and taking up vaping. Electronic cigarettes were considered a safe alternative at the time and, because their smoke doesn’t come with a smell, they were acceptable in most public places.
The more I read up on it, though, the more skeptical I became. I found reports that said e-cigarettes had entered the market without being tested nearly as thoroughly as traditional cigarettes. I also read about vaping devices producing some of the same harmful chemicals, or even more, if they burned hot enough.
So I never talked myself into getting one, instead convincing myself that I would just be trading one addiction for another. I decided I’d be better off without any nicotine in my life.
Five years later, I’m really glad I resisted the urge.
It now appears that e-cigarettes – battery-powered devices that use heat to turn liquids into aerosols – are no safer than the old-fashioned cigarettes rolled with tobacco. They might even be worse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has seen more than 800 lung-injury cases and 12 deaths associated with the use of e-cigarettes or vaping devices containing either nicotine or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Chemical exposure is the suspected cause, although the specific chemical or chemicals responsible have not been determined and the outbreak has not been linked to a single brand or product.
That’s scary stuff, and the crisis has hit close to home. The Houston Health Department announced Sept. 10 that at least three teenagers in the city had been hospitalized with serious lung illnesses following e-cigarette use. On Sept. 27, Harris County Public Health announced it had identified three other teenagers with confirmed or probable vaping-related lung illnesses, with a spokesperson saying all three cases were in Northwest Harris County.
Both the city and county organizations have recommended stopping e-cigarette use until more is known.
“This is a very serious outbreak and I urge all parents to check with their children to make sure they are not using e-cigarette products. Adults should also stop using these products,” Dr. David Persse, the city’s director of emergency medical services, said in a statement released by the Houston Health Department. “These illnesses are life-threatening, even for healthy young people who may not regularly use these products.”
Most people would agree that kids shouldn’t use any type of tobacco product, or any form of THC, but we also know that kids are kids and they’re prone to go against rules, laws and common sense. We also know that tobacco companies have long marketed their products to young people, some of whom could be turned on to e-cigarettes because they come in a variety of flavors.
As noted by Harris County Public Health, which has launched a free Youth Vaping Prevention Program available to schools and youth groups, some e-cigarettes can be concealed because they look like everyday items such as USB devices, candy packages, pens and watches.
So parents, please be cautious and make sure your kids aren’t putting themselves in danger by using these products. And, remember, if they’ve already started using them, it might be tough for them to stop.
I speak from experience, because I started using tobacco as a teenager and know how powerful the nicotine addiction can be. I continue to grapple with it. I still dream about dipping and smoking from time to time.
But I also remember the time I fought off the urge to start vaping. So I know the addiction, and the problems it causes, can be beaten.