Vaping Among Youth
When we see an adult smoking cigarettes or vaping, we do not immediately think that it is a cause for concern. However, the same cannot be said for the teenagers, who are more impressionable than adults and who face a higher risk for getting addicted to nicotine. Teens puffing clouds of smoke in schools, playgrounds and homes is a sight we have got accustomed to. Those, familiar with this phenomenon, might have heard a term “vaping” which stands for the use of e-cigarettes. Truth Initiative, a national tobacco prevention campaign, defines e-cigarette as device that operates by heating a liquid solution to a high enough temperature so that it produces an aerosol that is inhaled. Solutions typically include nicotine, flavoring and a humectant that retains moisture and creates aerosol when heated (Truth Initiative).
Vaping among teens has recently been heralded “an epidemic” by various media outlets due to the increase in the number of teens that use these electronic cigarettes. Studies reporting troubling health risks associated with nicotine use directly clash with the aggressive marketing campaigns intended to target teenagers. Recently, the measures have been taken by the government to prevent the spread of this problem. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) decided to restrict the sales of flavored e-cigarettes across the United States and ban menthol cigarettes altogether. As of December 5th, it also intends to hold a public hearing to discuss efforts to eliminate youth e-cigarette use.
No one can deny that vaping among teens is a problem. According to the FDA, the use of e-cigarettes rose from 1.5 to 11.7 percent among high school students and from 0.6 to 3.3 percent among middle school students from 2011 to 2017 (FDA). The numbers in this case speak of the mounting influence that tobacco companies have on teens. As of 2017 more than two million middle and high school students admitted to vaping (FDA). The question of factors contributing to the current troubling statistics is as acute as ever.
A key to understanding this problem is knowing the reasons teens find the e-cigarettes appealing in the first place. A scientific research published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence Magazine focused on self-reported reasons for vaping among 8th, 10th and 12th graders, provides us with a valuable insight into this issue. The data was collected in 2015 from 4066 students as a part of cross-sectional and nationally representative US survey. The participants agreed to disclose their personal reasons for using e-cigarettes. The results of the research were following: “Common reasons for vaporizer use reported by respondents who had ever used a vaporizer were experimentation (53.0%), taste (37.2%), boredom (23.5%), having a good time (22.4%), and relaxation (21.6%)” (Drug and Alcohol Dependence).
Common misconception when it comes to e-cigarette use is that it is harmless compared to smoking. While vaping is substantially less harmful to individual health than inhaling smoke from combusting tobacco, such as cigarettes and cigars, e-cigarettes are not free of toxins and deliver harmful chemicals when used (Truth Initiative). However, the sources fueling these misconceptions are e-cigarette makers, which often target teens with false claims of their product safety. One of the leading vape manufacturer JUUL has recently come under fire for its aggressive social medial marketing campaign that promoted vaping among teens and its failure to set age restrictions for online purchase of its products. A simple Instagram search for the word “JUUL” comes up with 278 thousand pictures related to e-cigarette use, mostly by teens.
Another method used by e-cigarette companies to get teens hooked on their product is the use of flavors in their products. Flavors in vaporizers are a significant factor credited for the addictive qualities of vaping. According to a 2013-2014 survey, 81 percent of current youth e-cigarette users cited the availability of appealing flavors as the primary reason for use (FDA). This survey provides us with an important data regarding the factors that contribute to the growing use of e-cigarettes among the teenagers. It would be a logical decision to remove the flavoring from the said products to make them less appealing to the younger customers. However, the companies behind the brands that promise us to be ethically responsible and committed to solving this issue, do in fact very little to solving it. On the contrary, they instead choose to focus on the fact that vaping is less harmful than smoking.
While vaping is considered less harmful than smoking, there are various health risks associated with it. Since nicotine is a highly addictive substance, it is important to consider the addiction to nicotine as a primary health risk. Smoking is considered extremely addictive, but with many vaporizers promising the same amount of nicotine delivery as cigarettes, they should also be considered a culprit. Another factor worth paying attention to is the effect of such high dosage of nicotine on teens and young adults. According to Truth Initiative: “Exposure to nicotine among youth is particularly dangerous since it has been shown to have an effect on key brain receptors, making young people more susceptible to nicotine addiction (Truth Initiative). Moreover, e-cigarette use poses a great threat to pregnant teens, who might mistakenly believe vaping to be safe for use when pregnant. In reality, nicotine should never be used by pregnant women as it can alter nerve cell functioning in developing organisms, especially during fatal development (Truth Initiative). Nicotine use by pregnant women has been linked to the number of issues ranging from the preterm delivery to stillbirth.
It is evident that e-cigarette use among teens is a problem of epic proportions. Recently, legislators weighted in on the issue and decided to take drastic measures against the problem. On September 12, 2018 the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb made a following statement regarding the course the agency is taking regarding the management of this issue:
We're committed to the comprehensive approach to address addiction to nicotine that we announced last year. But at the same time, we see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger. This starts with the actions we're taking today to crack down on retail sales of e-cigarettes to minors. We will also revisit our compliance policy that extended the dates for manufacturers of certain flavored e-cigarettes to submit applications for premarket authorization. I believe certain flavors are one of the principal drivers of the youth appeal of these products. While we remain committed to advancing policies that promote the potential of e-cigarettes to help adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes, that work can't come at the expense of kids. We cannot allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine. In the coming weeks, we'll take additional action under our Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan to immediately address the youth access to, and the appeal of, these products. Today, we asked five e-cigarette manufacturers to put forward plans to immediately and substantially reverse these trends, or face a potential decision by the FDA to reconsider extending the compliance dates for submission of premarket applications. But in enabling a path for e-cigarettes to offer a potentially lower risk alternative for adult smokers, we won't allow the current trends in youth access and use to continue, even if it means putting limits in place that reduce adult uptake of these products (Scott Gottlieb M.D).
The public and the legislators are becoming increasingly aware of the mounting problem that vaping poses for health of the growing generation. It is evident that e-cigarette companies are primarily concerned with increasing their sales, which directly translates into profit, they are less likely to take drastic measures to minimize the teen use of vaporizers. This is why the government and the public need to come together to reduce the increasing number of teenagers addicted to vaporizers. On one hand, the measures taken by the legislators are moving to the right directions, but they still do very little to prevent the e-cigarette companies from selling and advertising to the underage people. For example, the online sale of vapes works on the principle of self-authentication. Before entering the site, a user is prompted to answer whether they are over 21 years old. When purchases of addictive substances like nicotine are controlled by the question that is so easy to bypass, it becomes evident that we need stricter laws concerning sale and distribution of the said products. Harsher punitive actions need to be implemented against the companies that lure young people through fun, colorful and exciting advertisement. On the other hand, the public needs to not only be aware of this problem, but it also needs to know the risks associated with it. Because of the mounting scientific research and data supporting the fact that vaping is not safe for the health of young people, the problem needs to be taken more seriously on both fronts.
Patrick M., Miech R., Carlier C., O'Malley P., Johnston L., Schulenberg J. “Drug and Alcohol Dependence” August 1, 2016. pp 275-278
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