Uncovering Manogue’s Nicotine Epidemic: Understanding the Consequences, Seeking Help

Manogue students, parents, teachers, and administration, in addition to health professionals, weigh in on the dangers of vaping.


The Juul is catching the attention of high school staff and public health experts who call its high nicotine content “scary.” Photo courtesy of CNBC.

Eleanor Salkoff and Adrianna Osmetti

The Juul, a practically invisible—yet exponentially more dangerous—cigarette, is a fad that, in recent years, has replaced Americans’ almost entirely eliminated cigarette addiction.  The Juul contains roughly twice the concentration as cigarettes and other vape pens.  Juul uses a patented formula that combines nicotine with salt. The company says the nicotine-salt combination is similar to what’s naturally found in the leaves of a tobacco plant; the end result is a stronger e-liquid that vaporizes more smoothly, and is terrifyingly addicting, especially to teenagers.

Perhaps the most alarming consideration of Manogue teachers and administration is that students may not be fully aware of the health problems vaping causes.  Principal Thoreson affirms that of her 14 years of being a school administrator, “vaping is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever seen, and kids don’t know how harmful it is.”

According to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who in May announced the new Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, “protecting our nation’s youth from the dangers of tobacco products… is an obligation I take personally.”  Gottlieb called teenage vaping an “epidemic” and announced his group would work to stop retailers from selling e-cigarettes to minors and warned of a possible ban on flavored e-cigarette liquids.

Tobaccofreekids.org states that “educating youth about the dangers of Juul and nicotine use is critical” because a study from Truth Initiative found that 63 percent of 15-24 year old Juul users did not know the product always contains nicotine (all pods sold from Juul do contain nicotine and each pod is equal to 200 cigarette puffs).  

Thoreson explains that from teachers, she’s received reports of kids vaping in class.  “As a teacher, there is no way to tell what is in a vape,” she says. “With alcohol, you know if a kid is drinking, and if a kid smokes pot, you can smell it.  But with vaping, it’s very hard to catch and it’s much easier for students to share them.” Thoreson reiterates the studies done by the American Lung Association and the FDA: “I don’t think kids know how harmful they are.”

So, what really happens to the brain during a hit of nicotine from a vape?  

Business Insider reported that, like other drugs such as marijuana or alcohol, nicotine has a different impact on a developing brain than on the brain of an adult. The prefrontal cortex is often at increased risk in teens who use substances because it doesn’t finish developing until around age 25.

BI also found that brain imaging studies of adolescents suggest that those who begin smoking regularly at a young age have markedly reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex and perform less well on tasks related to memory and attention compared to people who don’t smoke.  Nicholas Chadi, a clinical pediatrics fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital, said “these brain changes are also linked with increased sensitivity to other drugs as well as greater impulsivity.”

A study published in the medical journal The Lancet ranked nicotine as more addictive than alcohol.  Dr. Chadi said he believed it to be more addictive than cocaine as well. Smoking and vaping are tough to quit: some 85% of people who try to stop smoking on their own relapse.  In general, teens are much more vulnerable to addiction than adults, since their brains are still maturing.

One study published last month found some of the same toxic metals in conventional cigarettes in e-cigs. Another found that at least some of those toxins appear to be making their way through vapers’ bodies, Business Insider explains, “as evidenced by a urine analysis run by researchers,” who randomly sampled nearly 100 people in the Bay Area who vape. “And research presented recently at a large conference concluded that there was substantial evidence tying daily e-cig use to an increased risk of heart attack.”

In a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report by the U.S. Surgeon General, it was concluded that nicotine exposure from vapes during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain.  Another new study shows that individuals who vape appear to be inhaling toxic substances like lead, nickel, chromium, and manganese in concentrations that either approached, met, or exceeded the limits defined as safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Consistently inhaling high levels of these metals has been tied to health problems in the lungs, liver, immune system, heart, and brain, as well as some cancers, according to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

So how can students get help?  Principal Thoreson wants students to know that self-reporting does not get students in trouble.  If they simply ask for help from an administrator or counselor, Manogue staff will help them, not punish them for vaping or being in possession of vape products.  “If we don’t catch you, but you come to us instead, then it’s not a discipline procedure,” Mrs. Thoreson explains. “We want to do everything in our power to help you.”  She encourages students to speak with their counselors, because “the counselor-student relationship is entirely confidential.”

Some students, who will remain anonymous, believe that the nicotine problem “at Manogue has gotten out of hand.” One student recalled being in an art class and watching students around him vape. “I didn’t want to get in trouble for being around it,” he explained. Many students also believe that older students have the power to influence younger students to either get hooked on Juuls or steer them clear of a premature and highly dangerous nicotine addiction. As a Manogue community, we have a responsibility to look out for younger students and our peers when we see them struggling with a nicotine addiction.