Combatting tobacco use among teenagers was hard enough when the enemy was cigarettes, with their tell-tale traces of yellowed skin, stained teeth, a rattling cough and, above all else, a stale odor so sticky it could imprint on just about anything. This generation’s habit is far cleaner.
Vaping is more discrete than regular smoking. Its vapors, unlike cigarette smoke, are here one moment, gone the next. E-cigarettes are battery-operated and made to look like pens or computer memory sticks — making them easy to conceal. The products they deliver are practically designed by Willy Wonka himself, flavored to taste like candy or fruit. One of the most popular flavors of the JUUL brand of e-cigarette is mango.
It’s little wonder that nicotine consumption, which anti-smoking campaigns aggressively stubbed out with cigarette use among teenagers, is surging again.
So are the dangers of chemical dependency. For all of the changes in the way it’s consumed, with smoking in the boys room much less obvious anymore, nicotine remains an addictive and dangerous drug — especially now that users get more potent doses via e-cigarette. And while health officials are still studying e-cigarettes to determine if they truly are safer than actual cigarettes, this much is certain: Nicotine is bad for the adolescent brain.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, in an advisory last year, called e-cigarette use an “epidemic among our nation’s young people,” and urged quick and decisive action by parents, educators, health professionals and local governments to stop it.
Earlier this year, a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed just how alarming the situation has gotten. E-cigarette use grew 78% among high schoolers from 2017 to 2018, according to the report that looked at results of the annual National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Two years ago, roughly 1 in 8 high school students was currently using e-cigarettes. Last year, it was more like 1 in 5.
Nearly 1 in 20 middle school students was reportedly using e-cigarettes last year — an increase of nearly 50 percent from the previous year.
Those numbers do not include teenagers smoking traditional cigarettes or using other tobacco products. The broader situation, then, is much worse: Overall, 1 in 4 high school students was a regular consumer of some form of tobacco or e-cigarette product last year.
In addition to winning over more users, the CDC report noted, e-cigarettes are used more frequently by teenagers than traditional cigarettes.
The popularity of this new way of smoking is not lost on school administrators and teachers, who’ve adapted their discipline codes to incorporate the devices. It’s against the rules to smoke cigarettes in the bathroom, and it’s against the rules to use e-cigarettes too.
What all of us seem to be missing is a sense of urgency — and not just at school but in health departments, at home and for anyone who interacts with teenagers.
As researchers decipher the dangers of e-cigarettes, especially compared to the more typical pack of Camels, we don’t need more evidence about the dangers of nicotine to the still-developing brains of those younger than 25.
It affects parts of the brain that control learning, memory and attention span. Among young people, a nicotine addiction heightens the risk for future addictions. Never mind the other chemicals aswirl in the liquid cartridge of an e-cigarette, which are inhaled as vapors into the lungs. In some cases, those additives include THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
According to Adams’ bulletin, there is good news in all of this: Health officials, school administrators and parents already figured out once how to win the battle against tobacco use among teenagers. It is critically important, for the health of an immensely large and growing number of Americans, that everyone get serious about waging that battle on a new front.
Read the U.S. surgeon general’s report: https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/surgeon-generals-advisory-on-e-cigarette-use-among-youth-2018.pdf