Archive for Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Double Take: Picking next teen co-author a tough decision

May 13, 2014


Dr. Wes: Selecting a 2014-15 co-author was a joyfully grueling process among competitive young people. To make matters worse, not only did four of the five finalists all come from Free State High School, they came from the same friend group. In fact, Kenneth Palmer responded to the feedback on his first essay by pointing out the strength of his competitors’ writing. We talk a lot about friendship in this column.

Kenneth didn’t win, but he gets my character award for supporting his friends, one of whom did. Bishop Seabury fielded another strong entry this year to round out the top five.

Each applicant wrote a second essay at my office on a difficult question not revealed until the day of the interview, and they each did a short screen test to see how they handled media interviews. You can see those on my YouTube channel via

Challenge question

I’m 15 and I like to smoke electronic hookah pens. A lot of my friends are doing it, but my parents disagree. They say that it’s nothing more than an electronic cigarette, but some of the oils don’t even have nicotine and you can buy them off Amazon, so I say it’s different. I’m not doing it all the time and it’s more for fun and to do tricks with the smoke. I think they should worry less about this. What do you think?

On Sunday afternoon, the race was so close to a tie that I e-mailed the top two contenders and told them we might need to have an emergency confab. But in the end, the runner-up was Sarah Lieberman by a few points. Her writing is simply beautiful and she was hard to beat. She also won the interview.

The winner and 10th anniversary co-author of Double Take is Kyra Haas. She scored more “1s” on the tough final essay than anyone in eight years. We’ll run it in the fall. She’ll serve through August 2015 and receive a $1,000 scholarship from

In response to the published challenge question, Kyra wrote this lively essay:

Kyra: You probably think I’m going to tell you not to do it. That I’m going to get up on my soapbox and preach about the perils of gateway drugs. That I’m going to side with your parents. That, like your ninth-grade health teacher, I’m going to give a 51-minute lecture, which, summarized, amounts to: “First you’re blowing fancy smoke out of one of them newfangled electronic peace pipes, and then, next thing you know, you’re Rob Ford — alone in Canada with only your crack pipe to comfort you.”

But I don’t believe that, and I won’t pretend I do. I don’t completely agree with your parents, but I see where they’re coming from. People know little about electronic hookah pens. They see smoke, and they anticipate fire.

I don’t know much about e-hookah either, so I turned to the Internet to formulate an opinion.

I’m rarely disappointed with Google, but when I typed “hookah laws Kansas” into my search bar, a Hays Daily News article about waste management was the first of only two results under the “News” category. Apparently, no one knows much about e-hookah.

So, is smoking a couple of electronic hookah pens to create sweet, Instagrammable smoke rings as health hazardous as nicotine-filled e-cigs? I can’t tell you for sure. What I can tell you is that once upon a time, people legally drank Coca-Cola with cocaine in it.

Laws and research rarely keep pace with technology. We now know that the only positive outcomes of Coke’s secret ingredient were increased sales and loyal customers because of cocaine’s addictive qualities. In 10 years, the question of smoking e-hookah probably will be as laughable as wondering if it’s bad to drink cocaine.

Whether it will be humorous because it’s so accepted or because it’s such a health hazard is yet to be determined. You probably don’t want to be a guinea pig in what could be another failed designer drug experiment.

But, if you can’t wait for science to support electronic hookah pens, then go outside on a cold day and breathe — it’s almost the same.

Runner-up essays

Linda Liu, Free State Rising Junior

While I don’t smoke, pens or otherwise, I understand the attraction smoking holds for people our age. It’s tempting to buy into these hookah pens and e-cigarettes because we think they provide the same experience with less harm to others or ourselves.

However, it’s important to remember that it’s very easy for us to disregard our parents’ advice simply because we’re used to doing so. Your parents are concerned for your safety, and they do have a valid concern for your health. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. If you were used to ads coming from all sides that detailed how awful smoking was, would you let your child engage in a similar activity without some solid proof that it’s not significantly harmful? Probably not. So it’s important to do some research and run a cost-benefit analysis.

Most articles do specify that electronic cigarettes or hookah pens are less harmful than conventional options. The tar and carcinogens in tobacco are absent in flavor cartridges used in the pens, according to Forbes in 2013. These pens also don’t produce harmful secondhand smoke. So a general conclusion could be drawn that hookah pens are the lesser of two evils, when it comes to comparing conventional options to pens.

On the other hand, putting anything in your lungs that’s not supposed to be there is damaging. Our lungs have little defense against harmful irritation, just a thin mucus layer. According to a study from the University of Athens in 2012, inhaling vapors from pen, even if it’s just flavored water vapor, increases airway resistance, or ability to inhale, by up to 206 percent. We also don’t know what exactly is in the cartridges. The WHO in 2013 mentioned that the ingredients in nicotine-containing cartridges have not been disclosed, and that most cartridges do contain propylene glycol, a known irritant. Even if you do smoke the non-nicotine cartridges, you’re still inhaling a substance that will harm your lungs.

Ask yourself the questions, “Is ‘[doing] tricks with the smoke’ worth angering my parents?” and “Is the health risk something I can ignore?” Proceed with caution.

Sarah Lieberman, Free State Rising Senior

At age 6, I got lost at Disneyland. At age 10, I broke my arm playing soccer. At age 15, I told my parents I wanted to be a teacher, or a politician. At age 17, I stopped wearing shoes and started listening to obscurely named bands. I’ve experience the wide-eyed stares, the constant bedroom-door-knocking, and the 500 consecutive texts asking, “When are you coming home?” An integral part of parenthood seems to be worrying; the slightest dip from the path instantly evokes concern.

Family units are a tug-of-war between the generations. Preconceived notions about everything from relationships to smoking have gone up in flames from parents’ childhoods to ours. However, the constant struggle between reckless adventurousness and cautious reservations creates a balance that leads to analytical inquiry. Teenagers are the Why-Nots and the Parents are the Whys. If teens didn’t question the societal norms of 30 years ago, nothing would bloom or advance. If parents didn’t question our choices, we’d probably run ourselves straight into the ground.

“Why?” gives us a chance to think critically and be well-informed citizens. So when it comes to hookah pens, why exactly? Hookah pens, like e-cigarettes, give the sensation of smoking without a heating apparatus or certain harmful substances; this eliminates the risks of tobacco, tar and smoke. If looking to avoid nicotine and, further, the addictive effects, be extremely cautious and critical in purchasing the correct product. Overall, hookah pens are a safer alternative to curb smoking cravings, so why not?

The raised-eyebrows from parents are most likely about the smoking craving itself. In breaking smoking habits, a common roadblock is simple aimlessness. A smoker isn’t used to empty hands. While hookah pens may seem harmless in their mechanics, the psychological impacts could carry us far beyond a simple pastime. By developing a smoking habit or smoking craving at a young age, one is viewed as more susceptible to future cigarette smoking. Hookah pens are thus viewed as a potential gateway drug for our generation.

The Whys and Why-Nots spell out that hookah pens are as safe a way to smoke as smoking can be, but this doesn’t mean they’re harmless. It’s a fine alternative, but a possible gateway. Be cautious and keep asking “Why?”

Kenneth Palmer, Free State Rising Senior

My life has been nuanced. I have experienced things as tame as a New Year’s party spent at a friend’s house, playing board games with family and friends and things as wild and illicit as a New Year’s party practically anywhere else, and my experience on both sides of the spectrum help me answer the question with personal knowledge.

If you attend public high school, you have probably seen kids in the restrooms routinely pull out electronic cigarettes and take a drag. A few people are shocked by their audacity, but most just shrug it off thinking the devices are a “healthy alternative.” It is extremely commonplace, but should we be more concerned?

In general, the “gateway drug” theory is inaccurate. Drugs like marijuana and cocaine are very different, and claiming one leads to the other is irresponsible; e-cigarettes and tobacco are different. Small doses of nicotine in e-cigarettes only prime the mind for stronger, more satisfying tobacco. My friend used to smoke only e-cigarettes and was proud to avoid tobacco cigarettes, yet the nicotine had its effect. Months later she came to me concerned about her heavy tobacco use. While this is not the experience of all e-cigarette users, but it is not an isolated incident.

Many e-cigarette users are tobacco smokers who get their fix during school hours with e-cigarettes. Even if you smoke using nicotine-free oil, you may be tempted to share with a friend who uses nicotine in their device. Another risk factor is peer influence. If you chose to smoke e-cigarettes with tobacco users, there is reason to believe that you may find yourself in a similar boat.

Weigh your options. Is the fun and independence worth the risk of addiction, not to mention the cost of the oils themselves? If you really don’t want to end up smoking tobacco, e-cigarettes are dangerous territory. I don’t expect you to change your mind, but I do suggest you plan for any outcome. Even if you’re confident that you won’t begin using tobacco, have friends to keep you in line and consider finding a new outlet.

Addie Graham, Bishop Seabury Academy Rising Senior

Here in the United States, we’re supposed to assume that a person is innocent until proven guilty. That’s good for protecting the innocent, but, unfortunately, every once in a while our system fails to evaluate a guilty person correctly and can’t sufficiently prove his or her guilt. The criminal gets off easy, with a punishment that is less than he or she deserved or no punishment at all, free, perhaps to commit the same crime again.

Although it might seem a little extreme to equate a 6-inch-long, plastic, battery-operated steam machine with a criminal, the same is basically, and unfortunately, happening here with hookah pens. They seem less dangerous because they aren’t called e-cigs, and, as you said, you can apparently buy them with cartridges that don’t contain nicotine, so that you are, in theory, inhaling fruit-flavored steam. But, when it comes down to it, the hookah pen, or e-hookah, e-shisha, or vape pen, is built exactly the same way as the e-cig and is just as unregulated by the federal, state, and local governments. The hookah pen seems safe because we haven’t done any kind of adequate testing of how safe it is, regardless of nicotine content; the USFG simply doesn’t have the legal ability to do so yet, and these are fairly new. We haven’t proven the hookah pen or its ingredients unsafe, but that doesn’t mean that it they are safe. Additionally, neither federal, state, nor local laws require manufacturers to disclose ingredients, so not only could you be consuming nicotine without your knowledge (“Excellent E-Cig” by Melon, for instance, indicates no nicotine ingredients on the label but later states “Nicotine is highly addictive), you could also be inhaling any number of thousands of chemicals, addictive or just plain harmful that you don’t know about.

There are a few other reasons to be wary: Kansas law defines e-cigs by their structure and function, and e-hookahs fall under that. Kansas law says that e-cigs are illegal for underage people to own or purchase. Ask yourself: is it really worth the risk? I’d say not.

— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his practice Family Psychological Services at Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.


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