Imagine the situation: You meet up with your friends after school one day, and you all decide to head to the park. Once you get there, one of your friends pulls out a vape and starts to pass it around. Everyone takes a hit, and when it finally comes to you, you hesitate. You know about the dangers of vaping, but you also want to look cool in front of your friends. What do you do?
Sadly, this situation is all too common among teenagers today. Being pressured by a friend, whether they are directly telling you to do something or just doing it, can cause whatever you are being pressured to do, whether it be vaping or eating something gross, seem almost inexorable.
When asked about the effects of peer pressure, sophomore student Ben Edelson said that “when it’s your friends, you find it really hard to say no in the moment, even if it seems easy before or in retrospect.”
As Ben said, it may seem easy to say no to something you don’t want to do beforehand, (perhaps while your parents are talking to you about how to say no to drugs,) the truth is, it’s extremely difficult, mostly because the circumstances of the situation are almost always nothing like the examples that teens are taught in school and at home. You’ve probably seen it before: maybe it’s a video played from a projector at school, or a talk with your parents, but the situation is always the same: a kid’s friend (or friends) tell the kid to do something that he doesn’t want to do. They tell him that if he doesn’t do it, they won’t be his friend anymore, or that he’s not cool.
In reality, that situation would be a lot easier to deal with than anything that happens in real life or outside of the first grade playground. In these made-up situations, the pressuring peers are so blunt with their pressure that the kid simply realizes that he doesn’t want to be friends with jerks like them anymore.
In a real life situation, there are so many more factors that come into play. Teenagers will almost never be direct with their words in a situation like this, and sometimes, the people pressuring their friend do not know that they are doing so. Also, most likely, the person being pressured, whether directly or indirectly, wants to be friends with the people who are pressuring them. This is what makes it so hard to decline something like a vape or a cigarette. The first step towards being able to say no is to understand why you’re saying no.
Most teenagers know that drugs are bad, but they don’t understand the extent to which they damage your body and mind. Another sophomore, Kevin Vidal, says “I know vaping is bad, but I don’t actually know why.” Well, here’s why:
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “nicotine is the primary agent in both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes [vapes], and it is highly addictive. It causes you to crave a smoke and suffer withdrawal symptoms if you ignore the craving. Nicotine is also a toxic substance. It raises your blood pressure and spikes your adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and the likelihood of having a heart attack.”
Nicotine is an extremely addictive substance that creates a sense of relaxation in the moment, but over time, creates more stress and anxiety in the smoker, whether it be actual cigarettes or e-cigarettes. The Mental Health Foundation says that “Nicotine creates an immediate sense of relaxation, so people smoke in the belief it reduces stress and anxiety.”
The biggest problem with nicotine products is the fact that they are marketed towards youth. According to the CDC, “Scientific evidence shows that tobacco company advertising and promotion influences young people to start using tobacco.”
Social media has allowed tobacco companies to target their ads towards youth. Tobacco ads on instagram are extremely common, causing kids to be exposed to vape products in middle school and high school. Vapes are easy to conceal, and can be snuck into backpacks. They create less fumes than actual cigarettes and don’t require a lighter, allowing them to be used in bathrooms or even in the halls and classroom.
Vapes (and cigarettes, though less so) contain metals such as lead, chromium, nickel and cadmium, all of which are heavy and toxic. Lead, perhaps the most toxic of these, causes brain damage and damage to organs. Lead exposure on its own can result in death, and the intake of lead is much more dangerous.
An anonymous student in the sophomore class says, “once you get started (with vaping and other drugs) it’s easy to just keep doing it, even if you’re not addicted or anything.”
It’s true: as a youth, once you get over your own reasons for not doing something, there seems to be little to no reason not to. The teenage brain is less developed than the brain of an adult. Teens have less self control than adults as well as less sense of right and wrong. This allows a teen to do something stupid without seeing the consequences of their actions.
Another effect of the teenage brain being less developed than that of an adult is that drugs, including vapes and cigarettes, have a much more damaging effect on the brain of a youth than they do on a fully developed brain. Think of it as your brain being more malleable when you’re younger: more easily affected by things like drugs, whereas when you’re an adult, the damage is less severe, or at least it takes longer to set in.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you are being pressured into doing something like smoking or vaping, or even something less dangerous that you simply do not want to do, the key is confidence. Confidence in yourself will show to your friends, and if you say no with confidence, they will be less likely to pressure you if they think you are sure of your answer. If they do start to pressure you, be firm in your answer. You may now even be able to tell them why what they’re doing is harmful.