Editor, Daily Times:
After years of teen-smoking decline, nicotine use among young people has sharply intensified. The new foes-electronic cigarettes and products such as JUUL®-are luring millions of middle and high school students into nicotine addiction.
E-cigarettes deliver nicotine through an aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which also contains varying amounts of toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer and respiratory and heart disease. Popularly known as vaping, use of e-cigarettes skyrocketed with the introduction of JUUL, a small device that resembles a computer USB flash drive that’s easy to hide.
Last year, the total number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose to 3.6 million, more than double the number using these products the previous year. For every 10 high school students in your community, two are currently using e-cigarettes. For every 20 middle school students, one is vaping.
It’s an epidemic that could have serious long-term consequences for both our young people and public health as a whole. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports more than three in 10 young e-cigarette users started smoking tobacco within six months. The nicotine in both e-cigarettes and tobacco products can harm the developing adolescent brain, particularly those areas that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.
That epidemic has been fueled by misinformation and heavy advertising. Two out of three teens think flavoring is the only ingredient in e-cigarette vapor and more than one in 10 don’t know that they contain nicotine and other harmful ingredients.
Like cigarette advertising of the past, e-cigarette companies launched their marketing campaigns with flashy, colorful designs and eye-catching, youth-oriented imagery on virtually all social media platforms. Until recently, their sales pitches were everywhere: billboards, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Today, they no longer need to promote their products as heavily because young people have become their brand ambassadors on their own social media.
It’s an uphill battle. But working with families, schools, and communities, family physicians are fighting back. The American Academy of Family Physicians has repeatedly called on the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes as rigidly as it regulates tobacco products. They have joined the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in calling on the Federal Trade Commission to fully evaluate the public health consequences of Altria’s announced purchase of JUUL -- a move that would result in a company that could more successfully exploit the youth market.
In addition, parents can stem the spread of nicotine use among young people. Multiple resources are available, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Talk with Your Teen About E-cigarettes tip sheet and E-cigarettes Shaped Like USB Flash Drivers: Information for Parents, Educators, and Health Care Providers. Color/RTF r56 g110 b255FamilyDoctor.org provides information on helping young people resist the peer pressure that frequently pushes them to try nicotine and other drugs.
The epidemic is real. The battle is intense. But with support from family physicians, success is inevitable.