MITCHELL, S.D. -- You’ve seen the big white label at gas stations, grocery stores and even pharmacies. “Warning: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each day, 1,600 youth try their first cigarette, which for some is the first step toward a nicotine addiction.
Elizabeth Minder, a Mitchell native, smoked her first cigarette in 2018 while hanging out with a friend in college. Three years later, she admitted that nicotine has turned into an addiction.
“It started out as a couple puffs of a menthol light. I only smoked while drinking,” Minder said. “That escalated to whenever I wanted to, then it became full blown. I was getting packs more often.”
When Minder decided she wanted to quit smoking cigarettes, she transitioned to vaping, a highly addictive activity that has turned wildly popular among American youths.
Data from the United States Food and Drug Administration shows that e-cig use has almost quadrupled since 2013, with 22.5% of high school aged e-cig users hitting it daily.
While vape juices do contain fewer chemicals than cigarettes, doctors hold a wide consensus that they are not necessarily safer. Standard ingredients include glycerol, propylene glycol and “premium flavoring.”
"When I wake up, I crave the nicotine that I want."
- Elizabeth Minder
Resources published by the CDC detail some of the many health concerns associated with the chemicals found inside most vapes.
Most vapes contain ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, contributing to a condition called bronchiolitis obliterans — more commonly known as popcorn lung. They can also contain heavy metal particles such as nickel, tin, chromium and lead.
The CDC has been tracking outbreaks of lung disease linked to black market vapes, which has led to nearly 3,000 hospitalizations and over 60 deaths.
Beyond lung damage, brain and heart damage can often result from nicotine use in young adults. Nicotine stunts the brain’s growth, and can lead to depression, anxiety and stress disorders. Smoke of any kind can damage blood vessels, make blood become stickier and eventually damage the heart.
Doctors from Sanford, Avera and Mayo Clinic were not made available for comment.
Minder said that the years of smoking cigarettes and hitting vapes has taken a noticeable toll on her lungs.
“I would definitely say I'm very short of breath now,” Minder said. “I just want to stop.”
Minder said people she knows — who are under the legal age to purchase — get hooked on vapes because they think the flavors taste good, and the nicotine gives them a buzz.
The average cigarette typically contains between six and 12 milligrams of nicotine, but most disposable vape products currently contain around 50 milligrams per milliliter — with some containing upwards of five milliliters of juice.
Jon Nath, a licensed addictions counselor at Stepping Stones in Mitchell, said that while the addiction center does not handle nicotine addictions, the use of any addictive substance raises an alarm.
“In a nutshell, addiction is a desire to have an outside chemical in the body to help us feel better,” Nath said. “Any time somebody is using any addictive substance it would raise concerns about whether that would become another addiction later on.”
With addiction of any sort comes a swath of physical and mental health effects.
“You can have some depression, anxiety and paranoia at times for the mental side. With the withdrawals from it would characteristically be shaking, some tremors and physical discomfort,” Nath said.
Minder said that she “couldn’t even put an estimate” on how often she hits her vape.
“When I wake up, I crave the nicotine that I want. When I go to work, I obviously go outside and take my smoke breaks,” Minder said. “I try to focus on work and try not to be distracted by the nicotine.”
The effects she has felt from her habit has led Minder to set a timeline for when she plans to quit smoking entirely.
“I want to stop vaping, but right now it’s just out of the question,” Minder said. “It's just not in the time period I want to stop. Hopefully by next year I’ll be fully off of vaping.”
Nath said that quitting an addiction is tough, but very doable by making a few lifestyle changes. Creating distraction techniques, realigning your peer groups and making a substance less available are all good ways to kick a habit, he said.
“One of the big things we try to get across to people, is when we’re talking about addiction, we want to make sure we’re not ostracizing people,” Nath said. “That’s something that we’re always working on to remind people that somebody with an addiction is just like everybody else.”
Minder said her advice to kids is to remember how addictive nicotine is, and to avoid it at all costs.
“If somebody asks you, ‘Hey, do you want a hit of my vape,’ don’t do it,” Minder said. ”Don't even get involved.”
The CDC provides free tobacco cessation counseling and other quitting resources at no cost to Americans across all 50 states.