Hooking Youth on Cotton Candy Nicotine

Pvt. Hunter Chubb had already quit smoking. Basic Combat Training left him no choice.

The marketings efforts of the electronic cigarette industry are catching the attention of a new generation of consumers: youth. Pvt. Hunter Chubb, a former vaper, believes that’s on purpose.
The marketing efforts of the electronic cigarette industry are catching the attention of a new generation of consumers: youth. Pvt. Hunter Chubb, a former vaper, believes that’s on purpose.

“That was a good thing,” said the preventive medicine specialist with the Fort Riley Public Health Department. “I came to appreciate my new found freedom.”

Weeks after completing boot camp his freedom was cut short. A friend introduced him to the electronic cigarette. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen the device. But there was something different.

“It looked really cool,” said Chubb, “similar to owning a flip phone and seeing a smartphone for the first time. You just really want it.”

An array of juices, or flavored nicotine, also made vaping an appealing recreation.

“’Vaping’ and ‘juices’ are terms the industry uses to distinguish the activity from smoking or tobacco consumption,” said Wayne Darsow, Fort Riley Public Health Nurse Practitioner.

Chubb said his initial interest in the electronic device was more about the technology and social lures.

“I didn’t have a desire for nicotine so I started with the lightest level available,” he said.

He began vaping at 6 mg/mL of chocolate flavored nicotine, which is considered entry-level strength. A week later he increased it to 12. A month later to 18.

“I wanted to keep feeling the effect from when I first started,” Chubb said.

Darsow said Chubb’s description is typical of a smoker who gradually develops a nicotine tolerance. To maintain the euphoric effect, smokers increase the number of cigarettes they smoke to intensify the levels of nicotine. With electronic devices, vapers increase the nicotine strength level in the juice.

“After a while I started smoking cigarettes because vaping wasn’t enough,” Chubb said.

He was back to where he was before he joined the Army.

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Electronic nicotine devices, or e-cigarettes, are marketed as healthy alternatives to smoking, Darsow said.

Advertisements for e-cigarettes report they are free from chemicals that cause cancer and other respiratory diseases.

“E-cigarette ads are also attracting a younger population,” Darsow said. “YouTube commercials for e-cigarettes show attractive people promoting the latest features. Their message is that vaping is glamorous, independent, and high tech. And this appeals to youth.”

Darsow said he doubts that vape juice flavors like cotton candy and chocolate are targeted to adults.

“It’s no accident that e-cigarette use among youth is increasing,” Darsow said. “It’s very easy for students to vape in schools without teachers suspecting a thing. Vaping leaves no smell behind.”

Data from the Center for Disease Control indicates that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.

The upward trend among youth usage is a serious public health problem, Darsow said.

“We don’t want our kids experimenting with vaping. Nicotine exposure at an early age permanently alters neuro-receptors in the brain that then manifest into an addiction,” said Darsow.

Currently e-cigarettes are not officially deemed tobacco products by the federal government. That means there is little regulation on the marketing of e-cigarettes, Darsow said.

In November, the Kansas City metro area adopted ordinances raising the legal age to purchase cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and related products to 21. But in spite of these local and regional movements to curb sales among youth, e-cigarettes are not subject to the same marketing restrictions as traditional cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes are the perfect machine luring a new generation of young people to lifelong nicotine dependence. We as a community must be vigiliant to protect our youth through education while policies and regulations catch up,” Darsow said.

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“I wholeheartedly believe that vaping is more addictive than cigarettes,” Chubb said.

In October 2015, Chubb learned about the Fort Riley Tobacco Cessation Support Program and enrolled. The news of becoming a father gave him the motivation to quit – again.

“This time I’m quitting for good,” he said. “But if I relapse it won’t be because of the latest features on an electronic device. I know better now. ”