I think we all could agree that preventing an addictive habit before it begins is the best course of action you can take. The problem is, when it comes to young people, there is so much working against us when we try to provide such advice. Let’s look at smoking as an example. As I reported last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day about 1,600 young people in this country will try their first cigarette.
According to a 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey, “3.7% of middle or high school students — about 1 million in all — (have) smoked ‘combustible tobacco’ products such as cigars or cigarettes,” USA Today’s Ken Alltucker reports. And that was not even their most popular option. The survey data showed vaping is overwhelmingly the most popular choice of school-age kids. “In all, nearly 3.1 million students in middle and high school vaped or used other tobacco products” during the Jan. 18-May 31 study period. Among teen vapers, “85% said they used flavored vapes and more than half used disposable e-cigarettes.”
“It isn’t a coincidence that certain subpopulations are using very specific tobacco products at far higher numbers,” says Matthew L. Myers, president of nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It’s directly correlated to where the tobacco industry has targeted its advertising.”
“Having 3 million kids use these products is truly alarming,” adds Erika Sward, the American Lung Association’s assistant vice president of national advocacy.
“Flavored products have driven this epidemic from the beginning,” Dennis Henigan, vice president for legal and regulatory affairs of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, tells USA Today.
“Flavored e-cigarettes have addicted a new generation of Americans to nicotine,” writes Margaret Foti, chief executive officer of the American Association for Cancer Research, in a recent STAT News opinion piece.
“In the past decade, the use of flavored e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems by youth and young adults, as well as by others who did not previously use tobacco products, has grown substantially, hitting a peak among high schoolers in 2019,” says Foti. “Although use of these products dropped during the Covid-19 pandemic, their popularity is once again starting to rise.”
While in 2020 the Food and Drug Administration issued a ban on flavored cartridges used in nicotine-delivering vaping devices, it appears the industry has worked around that mandate by turning to selling nicotine made in a lab rather than from tobacco, reports USA Today. Earlier this year, the FDA warned synthetic nicotine manufacturers and retailers about unlawful sales and marketing of these products.
“Until we deal with the root cause — wholesalers, manufacturers and distributors — we’re going to continue in this cycle,” of youth vaping, warns Sward.
“Prohibiting flavored (electronic nicotine delivery systems) products would be a powerful strategy to decrease the appeal to youth and young adults,” writes Foti, and decreasing the appeal of these products “must be an urgent public health priority.”
“In late October, our organizations, the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Clinical Oncology, released an updated joint policy statement … calling for urgent action to prevent further nicotine addiction,” she adds. It includes a ban on all flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems products as well as stronger regulatory enforcement. Foti cites research that shows that young people “are roughly three times as likely” to begin smoking traditional cigarettes compared to peers who do not use these products.
“As cancer specialists, we are deeply concerned about the growing use of (these electronic nicotine delivery systems) because teens and young adults who might not have used traditional tobacco products are now using (these devices), risking addiction to nicotine which, in turn, may lead to the long-term use of combustible tobacco,” she adds.
“For people who have never smoked, vaping introduces problems that can last a lifetime,” says an article in NewsForKids.net, a platform created by teachers to make the news accessible to kids. “In the US, cigarettes and e-cigarettes can only be sold to adults. Still, many companies are trying to get young people to try vaping. They use special flavors, like gummy bear or cotton candy, and make vaping liquids look like children’s juice or candy. As a result, many young people have started vaping, thinking it was safe.”
Exposure to nicotine is dangerous to a young person’s brain development. Says the Mayo Clinic, for some, using any amount of tobacco can quickly lead to nicotine dependence. This is the reality to which we are exposing our children.
Dr. Judith Prochaska is an addiction specialist at Stanford University who runs a smoking cessation clinic for patients with cancer and their families. She recently explained to The New York Times that “lighting up” can create a powerful memory that conditions the mind into associating a cigarette with the stimulation delivered via the rush of nicotine.
According to the Times report, “fewer than one in 10 adults who try to quit smoking succeed, a reflection of nicotine’s addictive prowess and the limitations of nicotine replacement therapy.” For any smokers out there who have tried to quit only to experience the agony of nicotine withdrawal, I ask you: Why would you want to see America’s treasure, our young people, go through such pain?
If you also happen to be among those who think smoking marijuana is safer than cigarettes, you may want to think again.
As reported by NBC News, a recent analysis by Canadian researchers that compared the chest scans of marijuana smokers and tobacco-only smokers matched according to age found that twice as many of those who inhaled the cannabinoids found in marijuana at the highest concentrations developed paraseptal emphysema as opposed to people who smoked cigarettes only. Paraseptal emphysema can be life-threatening. It is a condition for which there is no cure.