The first time I ever used an e-cigarette I was in line at a bar. I remember the stark contrast of the humid evening to the deep cool inhale of mint flavor that effortlessly filled my lungs. The rush to my head after I exhaled made my knees turn to Jell-O, almost sending me to the ground.
That rush coupled with the social nature of the device fueled my desire to buy my own JUUL. Amidst a vast selection of colorful pods and juices spanning from fruit flavors to your favorite childhood cereals, JUUL stood out as the least intimidating selection as they promoted a starter kit that came with the popular flavors of mint and mango.
I didn’t seem to notice the progression of my reliance on nicotine. I am still not sure if I was unaware or unwilling to admit to myself that the rush I got from vaping while partying with friends had quickly evolved to needing a vape to get through the day. I remember sitting in movie theaters inhaling the aerosol as deep as I could and releasing it into my sweatshirt pulled up to my nose to hide it. I would sneak down into the basement of the building where my internship was to get a hit of nicotine. I even vaped early in the morning at my desk before my coworkers had arrived or as soon as they had gone home. At the time, I did not know that one pod contained as much nicotine as that found in a whole pack of cigarettes.
I was still vaping when I applied for my current position at Tobacco Free Communities Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie.
When I learned that I would be working with teenagers to prevent youth from using tobacco, I knew using the product would be hypocritical. I also began to learn about the tobacco industry’s marketing strategies and tactics to addict youth and young adults to their products quickly and for life. I saw I had done and experienced exactly what the industry had mapped out years ago: getting the euphoric rush from my first hit of highly concentrated nicotine, choosing from numerous sweet e-cig flavors presented like candy in the stores, and using the JUUL starter kit.
The resentment at being manipulated inspired me to quit cold turkey. The first two weeks were excruciating. I had headaches, intense cravings, and a short temper that caused me to flare up at family and friends. Thankfully, I was able to kick my habit, but I still crave nicotine every single day.
The powerful stigma of cigarettes prevented my peers and me from smoking them, but the new vaping products, with sweet flavors veiling their harmful effects, the extreme physical sensation they offered, and the social pressure surrounding them, easily drew us in. TFC-DOS’ youth program “Reality Check” works to educate our communities on the impact the tobacco industry has had on local youth and to prevent youth from initiating tobacco use, whether smoking, vaping or chewing. As Reality Check’s Youth Engagement Coordinator for the tricounty area, I continue to work to elevate local youth’s perspective on tobacco marketing and assist in mobilizing communities to find ways to protect their kids.
Without these sources of inspiration, I would have undoubtedly continued to use e-cigarettes regardless of the consequences. My nicotine addiction and my friends’ continuing use of tobacco products fuels my desire to mobilize communities to protect their youth from this industry.
Christopher Bradley is a youth engagement coordinator at Tobacco Free Communities Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie.