SHIRLEY -- It's tough to break a habit, even a harmful one, like smoking. But there's no tobacco in e-cigarettes or other electronic vape devices, no known cancer risk from their use. So it's safe, right?
Wrong, says Robert Hackenson Jr. of Dynamic Influence, while on a mission to "engage, inspire and edutain" and has taken up the anti-vaping cause.
During a recent presentation at Ayer Shirley Middle School, he set out to refute marketing messages that he said the tobacco industry uses to sell vape products. Same as cigarettes once upon a time. "Don't let them fool you," he said.
First off, it's not harmless, he said, nor even vapor, really. A variety of chemicals -- not simple, water-based vapor -- creates the misty cloud that comes from e-cigarettes and devices like Juule, a snazzy vape device he said is favored by teens.
Some say they get a "natural high" from vaping, or that it relieves anxiety, Hackenson said. He debunked such notions, adding that there may be risks from second-hand "vape" as well.
While the jury is still out on long term effects, there's medical and scientific information in the pipeline that suggests a roster of risks, listed on-screen during Hackson's talk. Teens, in particular, shouldn't vape, he said, since there's evidence it can damage a still-developing brain.
Go to almost any public awareness venue or health organization's website to find facts, figures, statistics, including chemicals in some vape devices and potential effects on internal organs.
Hackenson's website, www.dynamicinfluence.com, offers helpful links.
Roaming the stage, his rapid-fire, prop-assisted logic was aimed straight at the tobacco industry, dispelling feel-good rhetoric portraying vapes as benign and non-addictive.
Vaping is risky for young people under 25, Hackenson said. Their brains are still developing and might be permanently damaged by nicotine and chemicals in vape, he said. And it can be habit-forming.
Vape devices can deliver strong doses of nicotine, straight up, unfiltered, which, along with other chemicals in some vape products, ends up in the lungs, stomach and other organs, he said.
Using e-cigarettes or other vape devices to quit smoking is one thing, Hackenson said, but vaping for its own sake is another and teens should opt out.
Noting how earlier generations were once bombarded with cigarette ads - from billboards displaying the friendly faces of Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man to actors in white lab coats portraying "doctors who smoke" on TV, Hackenson posits that vape is a tobacco industry ploy to hook the next generation.
It's may not be a far-fetched idea. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Juule and devices like it represent a multibillion dollar investment by the makers of Marlboro cigarettes.
State law prohibits sales of vapes and e-cigarettes to anyone under 18, Hackenson said, same as tobacco. But underage vapers apparently can get them almost as easily as cigarettes.
Which is where peer pressure comes in and making smart, healthy choices is key, Hackenson said.
With participants from the audience on stage, he set out to demonstrate what peer pressure is all about. It's subtle, like a suggestion you come up with yourself, he said.
You're at a party. A Juule is passed around. You say no thanks. Then what? Even if nobody tries talking you into it, you're the odd one out. It's a so-what moment, he said, no big deal.
It's not true that everybody else your age vapes, he said. Talk to your friends but decide for yourself. Most of all, get the facts.
For example, vapes with nicotine and chemicals may cause permanent damage to a still-developing brain, he said, so it's super risky for people under 25, whose brains are still works in progress.
The takeaway is that vape products are not toys. They are for adults who want to quit smoking. Period.
Hacksenson's rhetoric is right on that score, according to the owner of The Vape Shop, which has been in business in downtown Ayer since 2015.
With a whimsical sign out front, a stylish interior and a cornucopia of attractively displayed merchandise, The Vape Shop sells a range of products and paraphernalia, from bottled vape liquids to small, handheld pods and an array of other electronic vape devices of varying sizes, shapes and colors.
There were also items the owner readily admits are pot-related. (Cannabis is legal in Massachusetts, after all.) These range from packaged rolling papers and cigar wrappers to hand blown pipes exhibited like museum pieces in a glass case, created by a glass blower in Nashua, NH.
But the shop does not sell Juules, said the owner, who identified himself as Chad.
Not surprisingly, he offered a different slant on vaping.
Vaping is "95 percent safer than smoking" cigarettes and is an effective way to quit, he said, citing a statistic he says came from the Royal College of Physicians in the U.K.
Not all vape products contain nicotine, he said. If they do, it's to help smokers quit.
Selecting from a shelf of bottles, he sketched a multi-step cessation regimen, with the first bottle containing the most nicotine and lesser amounts in the others, with levels all the way down to zero.
Some customers prefer flavored vapes, he said, and he offers quite a lineup. "Adults like variety and flavors, he said. His personal favorite is raspberry dragonfruit.
But none of it is to entice children, and he certainly doesn't sell to them, Chad said, noting ways and means he and other vape sellers use to keep these products out of their hands. Kids can't even come into his store.