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As FDA Announces E-Cigarette Regulations, Some Young Milwaukeeans Hooked on Vaping

Montel Allen
Sonia Vasquez has abandoned smoking for vaping

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration announced a ban on selling electronic cigarettes to minors as well as a requirement that e-cigs display warnings that they contain nicotine.

READ: FDA Acts To Regulate E-Cigarettes And Cigars For The First Time

The rate of teens using e-cigarettes has risen from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015, according to the CDC and FDA.

While some young vapers says they enjoy the habit and believe it's safer than smoking cigarettes, warnings persist.

Joe Conti says he knows people sometimes stare when he emits a cloud of vapor that can smell like anything from cinnamon to caramel. "A lot of people probably think that I’m probably doing something else that’s not just inhaling just nicotine vapor. People aren’t familiar with a lot of the devices and how (vaping) looks, plus there’s a lot of devices that can put out a large amount of vapor. And it’s not something you see every day," he says.

Conti works at a local e-cigarette shop and says he’s been vaping for two years. "I've spent a lot on vaping just because I like it and I believe in it. So I have basically invested in in," he says.

Conti says it takes a bit more preparation than pulling a cigarette out of a pack and lighting it. "In a basic vaporizer you have two parts: You have a power supply and an atomizer," he explains.

While some vapes are simple metallic, tubular devices, Conti’s resembles a breathalyzer. "On top you have where you put your juice, what I have is a dripper. So I drip my juice directly in my coils. I hold the button, I cook it for like a second," he says.

And he inhales and exhales.

"For me, it was never about how big the cloud could get or anything like that," says Sonia Vasquez.

Vasquez says, for her, vaping is an alternative to smoking cigarettes. She says she used to smoke a pack a day, a habit that cost her $200 a month. Now, she says she spends about $50 for e-juice. But cost-savings wasn't the only reason she switched.

"It was more of something to try and better my health and change my lifestyle," Vasquez says.

While Vasquez says she likes the fact that e-cigarettes contain fewer chemicals than regular cigarettes, the e-juice can still be harmful, according to Dr. Scott Reid, chair of the Chemistry Dept. at Marquette University.

"It sort of obliterates the bronchioles in the lungs, and what that does is it restricts the capacity of the lungs, because it sort of leads to scarring in these bronchioles which are these tiny airways in the lungs through which air passes, and once those are permanently scarred, it really impacts your lung function," Reid says.

He says the effects may be irreversible.

READ: E-Cigarettes Can Churn Out High Levels Of Formaldehyde

There have also been reports of vaporizers bursting, injuring the user. Sonia knows that mishaps can occur.

"I have had an instance where sometimes the juice will shoot up out of the mouthpiece with certain vapes, and one time it actually shot into my eye, so that wasn’t fun," Vasquez says.

Meanwhile, government and businesses alike are deciding whether to prohibit the use of e-cigs indoors, right along with smoking. Recently, UW-Madison banned vaping in buildings and near entrances.

Montel Allen is majoring in Journalism at UWM. During his time there, he has led the Voices of Milwaukee student organization. Montel has also reported on a plethora of topics regarding Milwaukee, including these two pieces for Media Milwaukee: Faces of UWM: The Pianist and 500 UW-Milwaukee Students “Make a Difference” for Elders.
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