For well over the past two decades, the cigarette smoking rate among US youth and teens has steadily been decreasing. This is a tremendous win for youth workers, public health workers, youth, and the general population because it took collaboration to help educate our youth about the dangers of cigarettes and to prevent them from ever starting. Unfortunately, the tobacco industry has found a new product to target youth, and it is working. The most popular tobacco product used by middle school and high school students, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are E-cigarettes.
What Are E-Cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are electronic devices that typically have a battery, a heating device, and a place that holds a liquid. Once the liquid nicotine is heated, it creates an aerosol that is then inhaled. There are numerous different names that are used for e-cigarettes including “e-cigs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” and “vapes.” The most popular E-cigarette brand among youth is JUUL. So the act of using an e-cigarette is often referred to as “JUULing” or “vaping.”
E-cigarettes come in a wide array of looks, ranging from looking like a USB flash drive, a pen, to a pipe or cigarette. The CDC provided the following image as a way to educate adults to be on the lookout for these items as some of them look nothing like a typical tobacco product.
Why Are E-cigarettes Bad for Youth?
The Surgeon General’s campaign, “Know The Risks, E-Cigarettes & Youth People” addresses the significant and avoidable health risks of e-cigarettes for youth. The following risks are the focus of the campaign:
- Nicotine exposure for youth and young adults has a risk of long-term and long-lasting effects such as nicotine addiction, mood disorders, and permanent lowering of impulse control.
- Research indicates that the use of e-cigarettes is linked to alcohol and other drug use, specifically marijuana. Some e-cigarette products can also be used to smoke marijuana.
- The aerosol vapors from e-cigarettes are not as harmless as they are advertised to be. They have been found to contain harmful chemicals including diacetyl, benzene, and heavy metals such as lead, tin, and nickel. It is difficult to know exactly what is found in e-cigarettes as there have been some marketed as containing zero percent nicotine when in fact they were tested and did contain nicotine. The CDC also provided the following image to illustrate some of the products that are found in e-cigarette vapors.
E-cigarettes are clearly being marketed to youth and teens as evident by the number of flavor options the nicotine come in. The Surgeon General’s report found that flavors were used by 85% of e-cigarette users between the ages of 12 and 17. These include flavors such as candy, fruit, chocolate, sweets, and even alcohol flavor and menthol.
How to Take Action and Prevent E-Cigarette Use?
There has been a lot of information available to the general public about e-cigarettes. The tobacco industry has worked hard to define the narrative around e-cigarettes as a safe form of smoking. E-cigarettes were even presented as safe to use and allowable in smoke-free environments. The extensive persuasive advertising from the tobacco industry has affected the attitudes that young people have towards vaping. Youth are reporting that they perceive e-cigarettes as safe, leading to a rapid increase in use.
Action needs to be taken today to better prevent youth and teens from ever trying E-cigarettes.
The most straight forward prevention technique is to talk with youth and teens. Ask them questions to see if they have heard of vaping or if they have seen their friends or peers using e-cigarettes. Asking open-ended questions will allow youth to share what they know and how they feel about e-cigarettes, but it is essential that we listen non-judgmentally. It is our responsibility to not let our youth today fall prey to the tobacco industry. Explain what e-cigarette are and the effects that they have on their health. In these conversations, we need to dispel the many misconceptions that e-cigarettes are safe. Just because they come in kid-friendly flavors like bubblegum and chocolate, we need the youth to understand the truth and the great risks of harm from e-cigarettes.
Here are some great resources for parents and those who work with youth to help them to learn the facts and to start the conversation.
Click on the links below for these great resources:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Office on Smoking and Health. (n.d.) Talk with Your Teen About E-cigarettes: A Tip Sheet for Parents.
- CATCH My Breath Program. (n.d.) Parent Resources.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018) Youth Tobacco Use: Results from the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017) E-cigarette Ads and Youth.
For breakfast, I had black coffee, vanilla protein shake, and a mandarin.