Just when we thought we were going to get American kids to stop adopting the horrible, nasty, destructive, habit of smoking tobacco cigarettes, here comes the electronic-cigarette industry with more heartache. Find out the recent trends with e- cigarettes use in the U.S., how their manufacturers, in my opinion, are able to lure so many kids into using their products, and most importantly, some simple things you can do to keep your teens from being vaping in this edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics.
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The Slow Death of Cigarettes in the U.S.
If you are a long time Doc Smo follower, you have heard me talk about the incredible success we have had in the U.S. at convincing teens not to start using cigarettes. I must admit, I have been a little obsessed about cigarettes because when I was a child, it seemed like every adult around me smoked – and I hated it. Some of my earliest memories were running into hot dangling cigarettes as I ran through the house playing or struggling to breath in a closed-up car while the adults smoked. During my childhood, approximately 50% of Americans smoked regularly. Tobacco companies were some of the biggest companies on the planet in those days, until the tobacco settlement of 1998, when cigarette use slowly declined to 20%. Out with Joe Camel, out with gorgeous young models brandishing cigarettes in magazines, and out with all the other marketing tricks that target young people to take up the habit. And these changes worked! We were actually well on our way to ridding ourselves of this horrible addiction which robs an average of 10 years of life from its long-term users and causes so much disease.
Tobacco 2.0 and Today’s Children – The Rise of Vaping
Then came the meteoric rise of vaping. Almost overnight, the JUUL Corporation along with other companies created a new nicotine habit that pulled a large percentage of American children to a new vice – nicotine addiction via the electronic cigarette. High tech, sleek, and easy to use with flavors like cotton candy and bubble gum, made it an almost instant sensation among teens. The 1940’s brought our parents ash trays and smoke-filled parties but the 21st century delivered your children hot vapor, laced with the same highly addictive chemical-nicotine- a lot of nicotine mind you. To get an equivalent hit of nicotine from cigarettes, one would have to smoke twenty cigarettes. You heard me right, on vape pod delivers the same amount of nicotine that is contained in an entire pack of cigarettes. Of course the e-cig manufacturers deny targeting children but they have used two great strategies to attract children to their products; flavored pods that appeal to children and images of really beautiful, sexy, confident people using their products. Tobacco 2.0. Same playbook, slightly different product. Think that your children are immune to these messages? Think again. A staggering number of children are regular users.
Health Risks that Come with Vaping
The manufacturers of vaping products claim that they are much safer than smoking an old-fashioned cigarette – which may be true. However, e-cigs still come with problems, not the least of which is nicotine addiction. Talk to any ex-smoker and they will tell you how difficult it was to quit smoking. The nicotine withdrawal symptoms are very difficult to resist. As for the long-term effects of vaping, common sense tells us that becoming literally addicted to a highly addictive chemical (nicotine) and inhaling a mixture of hot vaporized water, propylene glycol, and glycerin can’t be good for a child’s lungs or body. In fact, a study from the University of North Carolina showed that propylene glycol and glycerin are toxic at a cellular level. What makes this especially scary is that those two chemicals are the two primary ingredients in e-cigarettes. Additionally, various studies have shown that nicotine can impact brain development which we know is not complete until the age of 25 years, far older than the age of the average vaper. It’s also important to emphasize that vaping is relatively new on the scene. We don’t have great long-term data to show the extent that vaping may have on health. But remember that tobacco cigarettes were originally marketed as healthy – the ad companies even convinced physicians to pitch Lucky Strikes. Look how that turned out…
A Little Recent Good News
But the news is not all terrible when it comes to e-cig use among children in the U.S.. Health advocates, regulators, and even some of the e-cig manufacturers have recently taken some great steps to curb the use of vaping products by children. The JUUL corporation recently limited on-line purchases of their vaping products to people over 21 years of age and are in the process of requiring that in-store purchase of their products require proof of age. And the FDA, at the urging of the White House, announced that in January 2020, they were eliminating the sale of flavored pods that appeal so strongly to children. Finally, trendy social media campaigns have also been greatly reduced by e-cig companies. And guess what…these measures are working. A recent survey of children by the FDA and CDC found that among high school students, the rate of vaping has fallen from 28% who have vaped at least once in the past month down to 20%. Middle schoolers went from 11% down to 4.7% during the same time period. This is wonderful news.
Take Home Lessons for Parents of Teens
So let’s get practical and translate this information to actionable knowledge for your family. If you have teens in your house, you need to be tuned into the issue of e-cigs. Their use is easy, cheap, and readily available to most children. Here are some steps you can take, today, to make sure your children aren’t snared into the vaping trap:
-Start by asking your middle schoolers and high school aged children if they have vaped, seen someone do it, been pressured to try, or been tempted try it themselves.
-Clearly and unemotionally explain how difficult and destructive this habit is to stop once started.
-Use your influence to mold your children’s attitude away from these products.
-Tell your children stories of how devastating smoking was for their grandparent’s generation.
-Counter the messages your children are getting that vaping is sleek, cool, and hip by giving them a reality check. Deep down, children who start the vaping habit, are looking for acceptance by a community of their peers. Vocalizing your strong disapproval before they become addicted, in my opinion, is your best and most effective strategy. But if you don’t ask and talk and yeah maybe even preach, you have wasted a great opportunity to use your influence. Believe it or not, your teens do care what you think.
Well, that’s today’s installment of Portable Practical Pediatrics. If you find the information you hear on my podcast valuable, consider writing a review where you get your podcasts. If you hear your review read on a broadcast, contact me and I have a Doc Smo gift for you. That’s what Kiddynurse did when she wrote her comment about my April 2020 post about Covid-19 in children: “Great podcast. It always seems easy to look at the negative of a situation. I, too, try to look at the positive aspects.” Thanks Kiddynurse for those nice words. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to redeem your gift. This is pediatrician Dr. Paul Smolen, hoping you are able to keep your teens far away, from the e-cig sway. Until next time.
Thaks to Drs. Monica Miller and Charlotte Rouchouze for their help in preparing this pedcast.