Tobacco use by youth is on the rise with more trying and becoming addicted to e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes, also known as vapes, vape and hookah pens or e-pipes, are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale aerosolized liquid, or e-juice. Like conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes contain nicotine, are addictive and harmful to brain development.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s website, “… vaping products recently surpassed conventional cigarettes as the most commonly used tobacco product among youth so it is critical that public health officials and the general public understand the potential risks of using them.”
The 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found that 19.2 percent of high school students had used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days, compared to 9.6 percent who had used conventional cigarettes.
“Over one in five of Minnesota high school students who has tried e-cigarettes has never tried any conventional tobacco products,” states the Minnesota DoH website. “Recent evidence suggests that, compared to youth who have never used them, youth who have tried e-cigarettes are twice as likely to start smoking in the future.”
“The reason they are bad is that they contain higher levels of nicotine, which creates the addiction,” said Lisa Goerdt, respiratory therapist at Essentia Health, “E-cigarettes also contain carbon monoxide, heavy metals such as lead and chemicals that are linked to these cancers.”
Among the cancers linked to these chemicals are lung, stomach, bladder and esophageal cancer. Other illnesses can result from these harmful chemicals including respiratory diseases, like emphysema, and COPD or “popcorn lung.”
“Nicotine addiction for kids effects their learning, memory, attention and behavior. Longer-term, it wires the brain for further addiction for substances such as opioids, heroin and cocaine,” said Amanda Casady, Manager of Health Promotions for the American Lung Association in Minnesota.
Casady explained that beyond concerning chemicals, there is a high amount of nicotine present.
“Some popular products, such as JUUL, contain as much nicotine in one ‘pod,’ as an entire pack of cigarettes, and kids are going through at least one pod per day on average,” said Casady. “We have an entire generation of kids that would never have been pack-a-day smokers, who are now full blown addicted.
What makes e-cigarettes appealing to youth? They are available in various fruit and candy flavored tobacco, they are advertised on television and available for purchase online.
“The big tobacco industry was losing and they found a way to hook people again,” said Goerdt. “This is the first time in 17 years that we’ve seen a rise in tobacco use in our youth due to the use of these.
Casady is well aware that e-cigarettes are already in our area schools.
“With the FDA recently calling e-cig use among teens an epidemic, full attention is needed to address this issue,” stated Casady over email. “As I’ve spoken with various school staff, students, and parents over the past month since school started, it’s clear that this region is no stranger to this alarming trend. One school staff recently reported that they have caught no less than 5-12 students a day with vaping products in the school since the beginning of this new school year.”
Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes can look deceptively like USB drives or other devices. Parents, teachers and concerned adults should talk to youth about these products as well as look out for the devices.
Schools and communities are already fighting against e-cigarretes.
“Currently, smoking cessation is part of our Community Health Needs Assessment for 2016-2019,” said Jenna Ballinger, Community Health Specialist for Essentia Health. “Our goal is to increase awareness of tobacco cessation resources and increase community capacity to address tobacco use.“
Casady believes that it is time to begin looking into policies that could curb tobacco use. “Policies such as Tobacco21 (raising the legal sales age to 21) are proven to be effective in addressing this issue, in addition to education for teachers and parents on how to talk with their kids and address addiction.”
Ballinger and Essentia Health are working with community members and the American Lung Association to find ways to start and continue the conversation about tobacco use with area youth.
“We know that policy work makes a huge difference within communities but youth are the ones that have been successful in the past to convince law makers to pass things like Tobacco-21,” said Ballinger. “We want to make sure the kids in our area are getting a say and a chance to address this issue head on.”