Did you know that 1 in 4 high school students uses e-cigarettes? Nationally, 5.3 million middle and high school students use these products, which means that even if your child is not using e-cigarettes, they almost certainly have friends who are. Rates of youth e-cigarette use more than doubled between 2017 and 2019, to the point that the U.S. Surgeon General declared the problem an “epidemic.”
Parents need to understand how prevalent e-cigarettes are – and the serious health risks they pose to young people – in order to protect kids from this growing threat. Many of these products look like pens or flash drives, and they can be disguised as watches or tucked into the sleeve of a hoodie. These disguises help kids hide them from parents and teachers, but just knowing what to look for puts you one step ahead.
E-cigarettes are also sold in a huge variety of kid-friendly flavors, from gummy bear and banana ice to mango and mint. Studies have found that most youth e-cigarette users use flavored products and say they use these products “because they come in flavors I like.” These flavors hide the fact that e-cigarettes can deliver massive doses of nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug. Popular brands like Juul deliver as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes.
A 2016 Surgeon General’s report concluded that youth use of nicotine in any form, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe, causes addiction and can harm adolescent brain development, which impacts attention, memory and learning. E-cigarettes can also expose users to harmful and carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde and lead. Studies have found that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to become smokers.
To prevent youth e-cigarette use, health advocates are calling for a comprehensive ban on all flavored e-cigarettes. You might have seen President Trump’s announcement restricting some flavored e-cigarettes, but what you may not know is that this policy contains loopholes that exempt thousands of flavored products that appeal to kids. These include cheap, disposable e-cigarettes with bright colors and sweet flavors, and vials of nicotine liquid in nearly every imaginable flavor. We need a complete ban on flavored e-cigarettes to protect our kids from harm.
This is a lot of scary news – but there are people fighting this problem and you can too! A growing number of states and cities have passed laws banning flavored e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill to do the same, called the “Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act,” but the Senate has yet to act. So contact your elected officials at all levels and urge them to take action to protect kids. It’s also important to talk to your kids about the health risks of e-cigarettes and create an open dialogue with them. Know the products, know the risks, know the signs of use, and make sure you can protect your children against this growing health crisis in America.
For more information: tobaccofreekids.org/ecigarettes.