Kids these days

Trailer truck with ecigarettes on Rt 135 headed for Levittown

Not all repetitive and addictive adolescent behavior is dangerous and destructive. Some is merely annoying. Do you remember the trend a year or so ago when it was fashionable for kids to constantly flip water bottles to see if they could land them upright? This was never an issue when I was growing up because there were no water bottles. We used water fountains that were in our schools and parks. No one dreamed of paying for water and carrying around disposable bottles.

Another thing we never did was go to bed with our cell phones. (Remember when cell phones did not exist?) This behavior among teens to day is not an addiction of an annoying kind — it is the harmful kind because young people are awakened by and respond to frequent texts, snapchat posts and other social media interruptions of their sleep. Without a good night of sleep their brains are adversely affected and wise parents insist that the phones are left on the kitchen table overnight.

Something else we didn’t have to contend with: e-cigarettes. We had the real things. Whether snuck from our parents’ stash, procured from an older friend, or even purchased outright from an unscrupulous merchant, teen smokers could be spotted behind handball courts, in cars, and other favorite hiding spots. Over the years there were many adults who rued that they began a lifelong smoking addiction that led to serious health issue.

Vaping, or using e-cigarettes, is today’s “cool” teen, and even pre-teen, behavior. More than half the kids in one of our local middle schools have reported that they’ve tried them. E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. They can resemble traditional tobacco cigarettes but more often they look like everyday items such pens or USB flash drives. The number one thing the kids say attracts them to vaping are the flavors, which include a praline, ice-cream and vanilla custard flavor, blueberry cheesecake, a pineapple, orange and guava flavor combination, sweet strawberry, bubble gum…the list goes on and on. I suspect that if the vape industry limited itself to kale and broccoli flavors, the use among teens and pre-teens would not be as rampant.

The National Institutes of Health explains on its website, “The teen years are critical for brain development, which continues into young adulthood. Young people who use nicotine products in any form, including e-cigarettes, are uniquely at risk for long-lasting effects. Because nicotine affects the development of the brain’s reward system, continued e-cigarette use can not only lead to nicotine addiction, but it also can make other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine more pleasurable to a teen’s developing brain. Nicotine also affects the development of brain circuits that control attention and learning. Other risks include mood disorders and permanent problems with impulse control—failure to fight an urge or impulse that may harm oneself or others.”

E-cigarettes are available everywhere. While you’re stuck at all the lights on Hempstead Turnpike, just look at the signs in front of many of the stores along the road and you can see that vaping is big business that’s here to stay. Even though it’s illegal to sell to minors, it’s clear that these devices are readily available to people regardless of age.

May I suggest that this is another caution against legalizing so-called “recreational” marijuana? Our young people do not need yet another brain-altering substance in the mainstream mix of what is available to them.

Whether it’s water bottles, cell phones, e-cigarettes or marijuana, kids will use what’s around them. It’s our job to be patient through their annoying fads and to mitigate the damage of the more dangerous addictions.

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.


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