Vaping by teenagers has reached epidemic levels, leaving many concerned about the future health of today's youth. Recently, an advisory was issued by the U.S. Surgeon about the dangers of electronic cigarette use among U.S. teenagers. Parents can play an important role in addressing this public health epidemic. The Surgeon General urged parents and teachers to take action by educating themselves and talking to teens about the dangers of vaping.
Electronic cigarettes, also known as "e-cigs," "e-hookahs," "mods," "juuling," and "vape pens" are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals. They turn chemicals, including highly addictive nicotine, into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user. Most e-cigarettes are manufactured to look like conventional cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. One of the most commonly sold USB flash drive shaped e-cigarettes is JUUL (fda.gov).
Strategies of Tobacco Companies
At first glance, a lot of teens see vaping and juuling as cool and fun. Teens are attracted to the trendy devices and different flavors such as, Airheadz, Cotton Candy, Krspy King, Kaptain Peanut Butter Krunch.
Teens can easily think this is a harmless activity. And that is exactly what marketers and advertisers want teenagers to think - e-cigarettes are harmless. Marketers know that this generation - GenZ, also known as as iGen or Post-Millennials, are smart, well-educated and are constantly connected to endless amount of information via the internet and mobile devices. They also know unlike past generations, they've grown up in a world for the most part, where cigarettes have always had a bad stigma. They have seen countless ads and commercials about how harmful cigarettes can be.
Because of this, teenagers aren't smoking traditional cigarettes like teenagers did in past generations. This now has resulted in a steep sales decline for tobacco companies.
As older customers age up and die off, tobacco companies found a new way to bring in revenue and get the next generation hooked. And that's how vaping came on the scene, engaging more and more young people world-wide.
E-cigarettes entered the U.S. marketplace around 2007, and since 2014, they have been the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youth. In 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, currently use e-cigarettes (www.cdc.gov).
E-cigarettes are widely considered safer than traditional cigarettes, but they are too new for researchers to understand the long-term health effects, making today's youth what public health experts call a "guinea pig generation." However, there is existing research on the effect that vaping is already having on users. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine - the addictive drug in regular cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can impact learning, memory, and attention. Using nicotine in adolescence can also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs. In addition to nicotine, the aerosol that users inhale and exhale from e-cigarettes can potentially expose both themselves and bystanders to other harmful substances, including heavy metals, cancer causing chemicals, and other dangerous particles (www.cdc.gov and www.surgeongeneral.gov).
Along with a stream of health concerns, several users have also experienced serious injuries. Researchers found that there were an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosions and burn injuries in hospital emergency rooms from 2015 to 2017. Recently, a 24-year-old man from Fort Worth Texas died after an e-cigarette exploded in his face (Fort Worth Star-Telegram).
Marijuana and E-Cigarettes
An even more concerning trend is teens using e-cigarettes to vape marijuana. Vaping marijuana (THC oil/hash oil) can be more dangerous than smoking the drug. This is because people often vape a higher concentration of marijuana (THC) which, in turn, intensifies the high and can increase the "likelihood of addiction and adverse medical consequences," said the director of National Institute on Drug Abuse.
THC oil can be substituted for the nicotine solution. Some vendors sell THC oil cartridges. More worrisome, kids are also learning to make their own. Some teens are dissolving THC in vegetable oil or using other techniques learned on social media.
Because marijuana is legal in some parts of the United States, THC oil can be easily accessible to teenagers today. Federal regulations make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to children under 18. However, these regulations don't prevent teens from buying the devices online. Regardless of age, kids can order a wide selection of vaping and legal marijuana paraphernalia.
What can Parents Do?
Taken from the Surgeon General's office, here are some practical ways parents can address this alarming epidemic:
Learn about the different shapes and types of e-cigarettes and the risks of all forms of e-cigarette use for young people at https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/.
Set a good example by being tobacco-free. If you use tobacco products, it's never too late to quit. Talk to a healthcare professional about quitting all forms of tobacco product use. For free help, visit smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Adopt tobacco-free rules, including e-cigarettes, in your home and vehicle.
Talk to your child or teen about why e-cigarettes are harmful for them. It's never too late.
Get the Surgeon General's tip sheet for parents, Talk With Your Teen About E-cigarettes, at https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/. Start the conversation early with children about why e-cigarettes, including JUUL, are harmful for them.
Let your child know that you want them to stay away from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, because they are not safe for them. Seek help and get involved.
Set up an appointment with your child's health care provider so that they can hear from a medical professional about the health risks of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Speak with your child's teacher and school administrator about enforcement of tobacco-free school policies and tobacco prevention curriculum.
Encourage your child to learn the facts and get tips for quitting tobacco products at teen.smokefree.gov.