Susan Parmelee
Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

Acetaldehyde, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, isoprene, lead, nickel, n-nitrosonornicotine and toluene have been found in e-cigarettes and vapes. Sadly, the FDA decided to allow Phillip Morris to advertise a vaping device as “safer than cigarettes.” Even more concerning is many of our teens are already vape experts.

Per the annual Monitoring the Future survey in 2014, vaping appears to have replaced cigarettes as the primary nicotine delivery device for teens. Unfortunately, our local schools are confiscating an alarming number of vape devices from students on our middle and high school campuses. All of the major tobacco manufacturers now market an e-cigarette product and many of the same advertising tactics (rebellion, sex and independence) used to pull in new youth users are heavily in use today.

A typical battery-operated e-cigarette contains a cartridge of e-cig liquid, or juice, which usually contains nicotine and the chemical propylene glycol (also found in anti-freeze). When propylene glycol is heated, it can degrade into formaldehyde, a chemical linked to nose and eye irritation, and an increased risk of asthma and cancer.

Most of the liquids in cartridges contain nicotine. Even the liquids advertised as nicotine free have been found to have trace amounts of the addictive chemical. Little regulation or testing exists to monitor this rapidly growing industry. Nicotine has short-term negative health effects, like increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, so it can aggravate heart conditions. Nicotine is also more addictive than heroin and particularly addictive to the vulnerable teen brain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017), e-cigarette companies have increased spending on advertising from $6.4 million in 2011 to $115 million in 2014. As the amount spent on advertising increased, so did youth use. More than 30-day use of vaping devices increased from below 1 percent to almost 4 percent among middle school students and from 2 percent to 13 percent among high school students.

Tobacco prevention campaigns have been effective in lowering rates of lung cancer in the United States. Most teens have seen the messages and claim they will never smoke cigarettes. Unfortunately, the e-cigarette industry blurs the lines, and some youth believe that there are no negative health consequences from vapes and e-cigs.

Additionally, research is showing there is a risk of teens moving on to cigarettes after they have used a vape device. In a recent study (JAMA Pediatrics, 2018) of over 10,000 youth, teens who reported that they had never smoked, but had used e-cigarettes even just once, were twice as likely one year later to have smoked a cigarette in the past month than those who never tried an e-cigarette. The same connection was present if the youths had smoked cigars, chewed tobacco, or used a hookah a year earlier.

What can you do? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following

  • Set a positive example by being tobacco-free. For free help, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov.
  • Talk to youth about why they shouldn’t use any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
  • Know what media their children are viewing, and decide what programs and websites are appropriate for their age. Watch programs together and discuss content, many cable TV series glorify underage substance use and many teen role models promote products that are unhealthy for our youth.

For additional information about teens and smoking see www.raisinghealthyteens.org. This link has great information to use when discussing this with your children.

Please join us at 6:45 p.m. on Monday, March 19 in the Little Theater in the campus of San Clemente High School, located at 700 Avenida Pico. The Wellness & Prevention Center will host a panel for teens and a panel for adults about e-cigarettes. Learn more, so we can all help our youth make healthy choices.

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 susan@wellnessandpreventionsanclemente.com.

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