Kids today may not be hiding cigarettes in their backpacks or coming home
smelling like smoke – but that doesn’t mean they’re
rejecting this dangerous habit. They’re just finding new ways to do it.
Tweens and teens have been vaping and smoking hookahs at increasing rates
over the last several years; in fact, vaping use among teens has doubled.
And a fast-growing vape industry is only too happy to oblige them with
youth-oriented vaping products and electronic cigarettes--“e-cigarettes”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June announced the results of
a multi-year survey about kids and tobacco use, conducted in association
with the Centers for Disease Control.
Among the findings:
- The use of hookahs among high school students doubled between 2011 and
2014, and the use of e-cigarettes increased at an even higher rate
- In 2014, one in four high school students, and one in 13 middle school
students said they had used at least one tobacco product in the previous 30 days
- Of the 4.6 million youths who were using tobacco at the time of the survey,
more than half – 2.4 million – said they used e-cigarettes
The study found that, while the percentage of students who said they currently
smoke cigarettes went down, more young people said they were using e-cigarettes.
The findings trouble
Michael Stouder, MD, a family medicine physician with
Mission Heritage Medical Group in Foothill Ranch.
“The FDA survey shows that the use of traditional cigarettes among
teens is in decline, and I am happy to see that,” Dr. Stouder says.
“However, e-cigarettes and other so-called ‘smokeless’
smoking trends are taking their place. This is undercutting the years
of hard work it took to steer kids away from tobacco.”
Dr. Stouder says the way young people perceive smoking has changed.
“Cigarettes and chewing tobacco aren’t cool anymore, but the
same disapproval hasn’t yet attached to vaping,” Dr. Stouder
says. “Middle schoolers and high schoolers are attracted to e-cigarettes
because they think they are a harmless alternative to tobacco, but they
need to understand that vaping is not harmless.”
Dr. Stouder believes parents and doctors need to do more to correct the
widespread misunderstanding among young people about the nature of vaping.
And, he said, the e-cigarette industry isn’t regulated, which makes
it hard to know just how harmful e-cigarettes are.
“Kids think that, since they are inhaling flavored steam, instead
of the smoke from burning tobacco leaves, vaping is safe,” Dr. Stouder
says. “I think they understand that when they smoke tobacco in a
hookah, they are inhaling the same cancer-causing substances contained
in cigarettes. Someone using a hookah actually takes in five times the
amount of nicotine as someone who smokes a cigarette. We need to educate
kids that e-cigarettes aren’t risk-free. They are primarily a nicotine
delivery device, like conventional cigarettes – and they can release
other harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde”
Just because an e-cigarette delivers its nicotine through water vapor,
rather than through tobacco, doesn’t make it any less dangerous
or addictive, Dr. Stouder adds. And since the brain is still developing
during adolescence, use of nicotine is riskier for teens than it is for adults.
“Years of study have shown that a young and growing brain is particularly
susceptible to nicotine addiction,” Dr. Stouder says.
Nicotine can cause serious damage to the cardiovascular system and when
someone who vapes becomes addicted to nicotine, the cravings may lead
them to start smoking regular cigarettes. “Kids should not smoke--period,”
Dr. Stouder says. “Tell your teenager that, whether they vape, smoke
hookahs, or smoke cigarettes, they’re putting toxic chemicals into
their body that will harm their health and you won’t allow it.”
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