E-cigs pose big danger to teens

Let's tax the product to police the usage

NOW THAT MARIJUANA can be sold legally in Massachusetts, we want to remind you of an age-old problem: smoking in the boys’ room.  Indeed it is a problem in the girls’ room, too. Long before Motley Crue sang about ditching class for a smoke, students were lighting up when they thought no one was looking.  Technology and the new marijuana laws make today’s situation far worse for both teachers and teens.

E-cigarettes are very popular and are so much easier to hide than old fashioned coffin nails.  Students can simply shut off an e-cigarette and drop it into their pocket when a teacher approaches.  But the real problem isn’t the smoking apparatus, it’s the cartridges one inserts into the e-cigarette.

A cartridge for an e-cigarette can be as small as a Lego brick and contain as much nicotine as a full pack of smokes and at a fraction of the cost.  Plus the smoke, or vape, from the e-cigarette is often fruity flavored, which makes it more enticing for teens than the acrid smoke adults grew up with.  With the new marijuana laws, the devices may soon contain pot, too.

Together we have a combined four decades of high school teaching experience.   Over that time, we’ve seen a steady decline in both cigarette and marijuana usage.  A few years ago the problem was nearly invisible as teens had seemed to get the message about the dangers of smoking.  However, we anticipate a dramatic uptick in illegal pot sales in school as both the supply increases and students misinterpret pot’s legalization for permissiveness.

It’s all well and good for smoke shops and marijuana dispensaries to tell the public that “we don’t sell to minors,” but the truth is children in middle school are already getting their hands on e-cigarettes and certainly will get marijuana, too.  And the marketing is classic Joe Cool. Some of the flavors of the e-cig cartridges are like what you’d find in a candy store. It’s takes a lot of chutzpah to say Gummi Bear-flavored e-cigarettes are not enticing to minors.

Worse will be the Gummi Bears and lollipops laced with THC.  We hate to think of a naive child mistaking one of the new adult candies for an innocent snack.

Plus some smoke shops are conveniently located near schools.  Foot traffic is important to every brick and mortar store, all the more for an industry attempting to attract new customers.

What should concern us all is the highly addictive nature of e-cigarettes.  The nicotine content of one e-cartridge is typically as much as a pack of your grandfather’s cigarettes.  Some can contain more. Nicotine’s deleterious effects are amplified in a teenager’s brain as it undergoes its adolescent development into adulthood.  Plus today’s marijuana plants have been bred to contain more THC. The results will be devastating to adolescents.

Far from being a healthy alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes contain a new danger: popcorn lung.  First discovered in factories that make microwave popcorn, popcorn lung is the term for the pulmonary damage caused by inhaling too much of the artificial butter used in most microwavable popcorn.  Vaping, with its added flavors, will cause serious lung damage to our youth.

Ideally these products should never find their way into the hands of minors.  But they have and will continue at an increasing rate. Therefore we adults need to monitor the situation.

Meet the Author

Annissa Essaibi George

At-large city councilor, Boston City Council
Meet the Author

Michael J. Maguire

Vice president, American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts
We ought to apply new and heavy taxes on the sale of e-cigarettes, marijuana, and their related paraphernalia.  The revenue raised would then be used to hire bathroom monitors and to run drug education classes. While “everybody knows that smoking ain’t allowed in school,” it’s naive to think that the new rules won’t adversely affect our schools.  So why not let those who are part of the problem become part of the solution.

Annissa Essaibi George is an at-large Boston City Councilor and a former teacher at East Boston High School.  Michael J. Maguire teaches Latin at Boston Latin Academy and serves on the executive board of the Boston Teachers Union.  The views expressed here are their own.