Last week a Plumas County mother called me looking for help when she found out her elementary school-aged child was caught vaping (smoking an e-cigarette) at school. She wanted to know what Public Health, and our community, can do to prevent kids from using these dangerous and addictive products.
She was not the first concerned parent to reach out to Public Health about this. In the last few months, Public Health has been contacted by multiple parents concerned about their child’s vaping habit. There have also been reports of children exhibiting nicotine withdrawal symptoms in the school nurses’ offices. Data show a prevalence of youth vaping in our county. Last year, 56 percent of 11th-graders in Plumas Unified School District who filled out the California Healthy Kids Survey self-reported using electronic cigarettes.
Tobacco companies directly target youth with their advertising. E-cigarette manufacturers like JUUL are experts at marketing to youth through social media sites and in the retail environment. Tobacco companies bring in new, young users by offering their products in flavors. These flavors mimic other popular snacks for young people, like Cotton Candy, Jolly Rancher and Fruity Pebbles.
This is not a new tactic. The tobacco companies have been caught using flavors as a way to appeal to youth before. In 2009, the FDA banned flavored cigarettes, other than menthol. But this ban does not include other tobacco products, like e-cigarettes and vaping products. Studies show that flavored tobacco is still the way that youth are introduced to tobacco. At the elementary school, children reported that the e-cigarette was filled with “flavored water.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
According to the FDA website, “data from FDA’s Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health found that nearly 80 percent of youth ages 12-17 and nearly 75 percent of young adults ages 18-25 who were current tobacco users in 2014 reported that the first tobacco product they ever used was flavored.”
Though they mimic foods commonly enjoyed by children, the effects of flavored tobacco are dangerous. In addition to the addictive substance nicotine, the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes includes chemicals and toxins known to cause cancer like formaldehyde, lead and nickel. The amount of nicotine is also alarming. One flavored JUUL pod has as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. And unlike the “dose” of one cigarette at a time, vaping products do not offer a natural stopping point.
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that e-cigarettes can be effective smoking cessation tools for adults. While Public Health supports harm reducing choices for all individuals, e-cigarettes are dangerous for children in any amount as they initiate kids into nicotine addiction, rather than reduce harm.
There are resources available to help youth addicted to electronic cigarettes. The state hotline 800-NO-BUTTS can provide counseling to youth as they try to quit. Youth are also able to get cessation products like nicotine patches and gum with a prescription from their doctor.