By Susan Parmelee
Teenagers and middle school students who had used e-cigarettes or vaping devices in the past 30 days increased from 1.1 percent in 2011 to 11.3 percent in 2015, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
This is an alarming increase that has long-term public health implications. Traditional cigarette use among young people has declined dramatically over the past two decades because of prevention efforts that include regulating advertising and access to cigarettes.
Unfortunately, the e-cigarette market took off without any regulation, presenting its products as “healthful” and “beneficial” to current traditional cigarette smokers trying to quit smoking. I have heard from young people that the supposed health benefits of e-cigarettes and vaping devices make them safe for teen use. Many teenagers have convinced parents that they would stay away from other substances if they could, “just have an e-cigarette.” Parents must be aware that the nicotine content in vaping devices and e-cigarettes is not regulated and many products that claim to be nicotine-free may contain trace amounts of nicotine.
“Many of the ads we’re seeing for e-cigarettes today—that rely on sex, independence and rebellion—look eerily like the ads that were used to sell cigarettes and other conventional tobacco products for generations,” said Brian King, Ph.D., deputy director for research translation in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office on Smoking and Health.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned conventional tobacco ads from places that could be regularly viewed by youth, helping to lower youth use of cigarettes.
Many e-cigarettes and vaping devices are produced by big tobacco companies and they are using the same marketing techniques that were so successful at attracting youth to cigarette smoking. Big tobacco markets use these new nicotine delivery devices by recruiting teen icons to market their products, depicting use as fun and attractive. Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, states that, “… the surge in youth use of novel products like e-cigarettes forces us to confront the reality that the progress we have made in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates is being threatened.”
It is our job as a community to help youth understand how vital these years are for brain development and how easily they can become addicted to substances that can have long-term impacts on their health. Youth need to understand that e-cigarettes and vape devices carry the same risks as cigarette smoking.
Please plan on attending a presentation by Jerry Weichman, Ph.D., at 6:45 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 16, in the Little Theater on the campus of San Clemente High School, located at 700 Avenida Pico. Dr. Weichman is a dynamic presenter who helps adults improve their skills in communicating to and supporting our teens. This is an event you do not want to miss.
Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.