E-cigarettes, and Juul brand in particular, are becoming more and more popular among youth. In 2015, more than 3 million youth in middle and high school, including about 1 of every 6 high school students, used e-cigarettes. More than a quarter of youth in middle and high school have tried e-cigarettes.
What makes them attractive? Young people start vaping out of curiosity, because they want to try the taste (e-cigarettes come in various flavors), because they believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco, because e-cigarettes look “cool” (Juul brand looks like flash drives) and can be concealed and used discreetly. Flavored e-cigarettes are very popular, especially with young adults. More than 9 of 10 young adult e-cigarette users said they use e-cigarettes flavored to taste like menthol, alcohol, candy, fruit, chocolate, or other sweets. More than 8 of 10 youth ages 12-17 who use e-cigarettes said they use flavored e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are a 2.5 billion dollar business in the United States. As of 2014, the e-cigarette industry spent $125 million a year to advertise their products. Vaping is advertised as an alternative to smoking. Juul claims commitment to “improving the lives of smokers and underage use prevention”. And although on their websites the manufacturers do warn that their products contain nicotine, is it the only harm? Do young people and their families know exactly what’s in e-cigarettes?
Patrick O’Connor, MD, who spent his life studying opioid and alcohol drug abuse, points to the fact that e-cigarettes ingredients are not well researched. “You see plumes of what looks like steam coming out of people’s mouths on the street when they are vaping, and I think they assume it’s mostly safe, mostly water. But these liquids used in vaping are filled with all kinds of stuff [like nicotine, marijuana, flavoring agents, chemicals], and we don’t always know what else is in there,” he says.
Krishnan-Sarin, PhD, another Yale researcher conducted studies in CT that proved that students who had used e-cigarettes were more likely to start smoking rather than quitting. She is concerned that children and adolescents do not know how harmful any doses of nicotine can be for their health and development. She thinks that parents need to have accurate information to be trusted by their children when they decide to talk to them about vaping.
Here are some important facts that parents and educators needs to know about e-cigarettes and vaping:
WHAT ARE E-CIGARETTES?
- E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol.
- E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes. Most have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid.
- Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items. Larger devices such as tank systems, or “mods,” do not look like other tobacco products.
- E-cigarettes are known by many different names. They are sometimes called “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” “vapes,” “tank systems,” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).”
- Using an e-cigarette is sometimes called “vaping” or “JUULing.”
- E-cigarette devices can be used to deliver other drugs.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER RISKS OF E-CIGARETTES FOR KIDS, TEENS, AND YOUNG ADULTS?
- Scientists are still learning about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes.
- Some of the ingredients in e-cigarette aerosol could also be harmful to the lungs in the long-term. For example, some e-cigarette flavorings may be safe to eat but not to inhale because the gut can process more substances than the lungs.
- Defective e-cigarette batteries have caused some fires and explosions, a few of which have resulted in serious injuries.
- Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes.
- It is difficult for consumers to know what e-cigarette products contain. For example, some e-cigarettes marketed as containing zero percent nicotine have been found to contain nicotine.
- E-cigarette aerosol can contain harmful ingredients such as volatile organic compounds; nicotine; ultrafine particles; cancer-causing chemicals; heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead and flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical link to serious lung disease.
AREN’T E-CIGARETTES SAFER THAN CIGARETTES?
- E-cigarettes expose users to fewer harmful chemicals than burned cigarettes.1 But burned cigarettes are extraordinarily dangerous, killing half of all people who smoke long-term.
- The use of any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe for young people.
- What Can I Do to Prevent My Child from Using E-cigarettes or to Help Them Stop?
- Picture of a father talking to his teenage son.
- Talk to your child or teen about why e-cigarettes are harmful for them. It’s never too late.
- Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which can cause addiction and may harm brain development.
- E-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine.
- Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- Set a good example by being tobacco-free.
- Start the conversation early with children about why e-cigarettes are harmful for them.
- Let your child know that you want them to stay away from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, because they are not safe for them. Seek help and get involved.
- Set up an appointment with your child’s health care provider so that they can hear from a medical professional about the health risks of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
- Speak with your child’s teacher and school administrator about enforcement of tobacco-free school grounds policies and tobacco prevention curriculum.
The US Centers for Disease Control and the Office of Surgeon General issued the Parent Tips Sheet for parents and adults who are planning to talk to young people about the risks associated with vaping.
The sheets can be accessed and downloaded here:
Unfortunately, today there is no federal excise tax on e-cigarettes. But states have the authority to tax e-cigarettes. Eight states and Washington, D.C., have already imposed a tax on e-cigarettes. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro is ready to take on Big Tobacco. At the meeting with Celentano school students in January she announced that she will be introducing a Youth Vaping Prevention Act. Specifically, DeLauro proposes mandatory age verification of online sales, restriction of kid-friendly and addictive flavors. She also wants to close the current federal loophole for e-cigarette products. To promote her initiative, she launched “Don’t Get FUUL’D”, an anti-vaping campaign in Connecticut.
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