The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has moved to limit the sales of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) to youth. The new laws sequester electronic nicotine delivery systems in stores, requiring retailers to keep these products in areas inaccessible to teenagers. Effectively, this bans e-cigarette sales in convenience stores and gas stations, but not in specialty stores.
These new regulations come on the heels of a massive surge of vaporizer and e-cigarette use among youth. From 2017 to 2018, vaping among highschoolers increased by a staggering 78%. Among middle school students, the increase was 48%. The raw numbers are shocking: one in five high school students has used an e-cigarette in the past month. The surge is so dramatic that the FDA has deemed it an epidemic.
Why are e-cigarettes so alluring to youth? Perceived safety is a big reason. Today’s youth have had the dangers of cigarettes drummed into their heads from a young age. E-cigarette companies attract teenagers by suggesting e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes.
Furthermore, with bright colors and fun flavors such as gummy bear, cotton candy, and fruit punch, e-cigarettes are designed to appeal to young people. And the data shows that it works. In 2014, the FDA’s Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) survey found 81.5 percent of youth e-cigarette users said they used e-cigarettes “because they come in flavors I like.”
Teach your young patients and their families about the risks of e-cigarette smoking. As a healthcare provider, you can play an important role in dispelling myths about e-cigarette safety. Begin the conversations early, as e-cigarette use is spiking as early as middle school. This means that some e-cigarette users may be as young as ten years old.
Remind your patients that e-cigarettes contain potentially dangerous chemicals. The liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes contains ultra fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, as well as volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease. For some of these chemicals, very little is known about their health effects.
Talk to your patients about how e-cigarette marketing is crafted to make e-cigarettes seem harmless. Help them understand the difference between what is true, and what e-cigarette companies want them to think. This skill is called media literacy, and it helps young people see through the smoke and mirrors of advertising.
The biggest reason for the urgency? E-cigarette use can lead to tobacco usage, and with it, a lifetime of serious and deadly health problems. Studies have shown that young people who use e-cigarettes are far more likely to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes. And people who begin smoking as teenagers have a much more difficult time quitting, and are much more likely to be hooked. 9 out of 10 current cigarette smokers tried their first cigarette before age 18.
So don’t delay—begin talking to your young patients and their families about e-cigarettes as soon as possible! You could steer a child away from a lifetime of tobacco use.