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Editorial No smoke, but e-cigarette issue catching fire

September 28, 2018

The youth of today are The Addictive Generation.

The AddGens make previous generations’ dependencies on television and Super Mario seem like mild distractions. It won’t be long before starter smartphones turn up on baby registry lists. One of the most stable future careers is sure to be medical experts who treat cases of carpal tunnel syndrome and compromised vision.

So we shouldn’t be surprised the current class of middle- and high schoolers embrace e-cigarettes.

Last spring, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal pressed for more action from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is now launching a prevention campaign named “The Real Cost.”

The possibility of true social change has been proven by the diminished presence of tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes were billed as another way to wean smokers off tobacco. Studies suggest use of e-cigarettes now indicate a rise in users who never otherwise smoked.

But the FDA has found almost 11 million youths between 12 and 17 either used e-cigarettes or expressed an openness to trying them.

Some youths already pointed to the problem. Ridgefield High School seniors Mitchell van der Noll and Aiden Williams spent their town hall internships last spring conducting an online survey to gauge community awareness of high school students vaping in the restrooms. Diane DeMain, a nurse and educator affiliated with Greenwich Hospital, has also recognized the presence of e-cigarettes being used in bathrooms.

The FDA will target bathrooms with informational posters, which seems like a holdover of the “Just Say No” era, as the AddGens are about as likely to pay attention to the signs as they would to a newspaper editorial. To their credit, the bulk of the initiative will be directed at audiences of YouTube, Spotify, Facebook and Instagram.

The adults need to do more homework as well, to hear the messages that e-cigarettes can contain toxins that damage the lungs.

Experts throughout the area are recognizing the breadth of the problem. Dr. Christopher Iannuzzi, a cancer specialist at St. Vincent’s in Bridgeport, deemed it “essentially an epidemic.” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb edits out the “essentially” in his comments.

Dr. Paul Saches of Stamford Hospital’s pulmonary division says he and his colleagues are considering expanding their work beyond tobacco because of feedback from parents who say their teenagers became addicted to nicotine as a result of using e-cigarettes.

The FDA is initiating welcome tactics, including dispatching warning letters to 1,100 retailers and issuing fines as high as $11,182 for selling e-cigarettes to minors. It is pressuring manufacturers of JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen, blu e-cigs and Logic to declare plans to address the youth movement.

It also happens to be a financial model that works, as the campaign is funded by fines paid by Big Tobacco.

The essence of nicotine is that it tells the brain it wants more. It tells us that for this, and future generations, we need more engagement by lawmakers, by medical experts, by educators and by parents.

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