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Vaping went from 0 to 60

November 23, 2018

Depending on where a family lives in the United States, and whether their hometown is relatively affluent or not, American parents range widely in their degrees of awareness about teenage vaping. They need to catch up fast, because the federal Food and Drug Administration chief says there is an epidemic causing serious health risks to those under 18.

Busy parents shouldn’t feel guilty if they need vaping — the use of electronic devices to inhale high doses of nicotine — explained to them. A few years ago e-cigarettes didn’t exist, and more recently they weren’t even mentioned in the annual surveys of student substance use. Nor do they leave a telltale whiff of tobacco or suspiciously stained fingers.

Nationally, the FDA says, 3.62 million middle- and high-schoolers used them in the last year, enticed in part by fruity flavors that appeal to young tastes. 

Parents and educators need to understand and guide young people about the dangers of nicotine addiction and the insidious trend of getting hooked by devices that, ironically, help many adults get off cigarettes. In either case, it is nicotine addiction at work, and it makes a lot of money for the companies that produce and sell such brands as Juul, Vuse, Blu, Logic and MarkTen.

Some states began to see the bane of widespread vaping before Connecticut did, but the numbers have now become significant here. Between 2015 and 2017 teens’ use of the devices in the state has doubled, with high incidence in affluent towns. Ninth and tenth grades seem to be peak years for starting a nicotine habit that could be a lifetime burden. Ask any reformed smoker about how much they miss nicotine.

Juul Labs made news last week by voluntarily pulling most of its flavors off the market for now. The FDA had threatened a ban on the devices, but it may be regrouping to consider the least litigious and thus quickest ways to limit teen access. For now the agency is saying that retail sales must be from closed-off areas of stores where no one under 18 is allowed. The Connecticut General Assembly will probably see a bill in the next session to raise the legal age of purchase from 18 to 21.

Vaping took no time at all to go from 0 to 60. Parents, public health officials and those who teach or work with young people need to get up to speed.

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