E-cigarettes are addicting teenagers to nicotine

February 11, 2019

Teenage use of electronic cigarettes has reached epidemic proportions — over the past 12 months, the number of high school seniors using e-cigs increased to 37 percent from 3 percent eight years ago.

The consequences of addicting teenagers to nicotine may ultimately be more devastating to our health than cigarettes. The progenitor of the epidemic is JUUL, capturing 70 percent of the market in two years with a market cap of $42 billion. JUUL has addicted teens who don’t know the electronic cigarettes have nicotine with flavors like mango or mint. The thumb drive, easily hidden devices are being vaped in classrooms and parties.

Nicotine is toxic to the teenage brain. The inhaled heated vapor contains carcinogens and microparticles that can damage the lungs. Long-term nicotine use causes cardiovascular disease, consequences we will see in years to come. Electronic cigarettes are gateway drugs to cigarettes, not away from them. Kids who vape are two to four times more likely to smoke cigarettes one year after starting vaping. Secondhand vapor from electronic cigarettes contains carcinogens.

JUUL’s marketing implies its products are safer than cigarettes. The time frame is too short to know the safety profile of electronic cigarettes. A controversial report in the Jan. 31 New England Journal of Medicine is the first to show that electronic cigarettes helps people quit smoking, but 80 percent were still using the electronic cigarettes at one year, demonstrating how difficult it is to quit nicotine. A switch to e-cigarettes from cigarettes trades one addiction for another. Is this safer? We don’t know. The study reinforces the urgent need to keep teens from getting addicted in the first place.

To address this epidemic of teenage electronic cigarette use, the New Mexico Senate and House will be voting on bills to raise the price and the age to purchase electronic cigarettes, eliminate the addition of flavors and place electronic cigarette use under the Dee Johnson Clean Air Act.

I urge voters to talk to your children about this danger and call your legislator to support this important public health initiative.

Dr. Barry W. Ramo, FACC, is chairman and president of the New Mexico Heart Institute.

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