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Talk to your youth about e-cigarettes

As usage rises, encourage teens to quit today

Many youth today are carrying products that look like school supplies in their backpacks, but in fact they are e-cigarettes, devices designed for addiction. We have seen a decrease in cigarette smoking across the United States, but emerging products such as e-cigarettes have taken over, and are cause for concern. 

According to 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey data, one in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students (over 3.6 million youth) are currently using e-cigarettes or vaping—a 78% increase from 2017. In Kentucky, recent districtwide data reinforces much higher rates, with some districts indicating 75% of high school students are using e-cigarettes.  

Juul, a type of pod-based e-cigarette that resembles a USB flash-drive, has fascinated youth, contributing to the alarming rates. Each Juul cartridge has the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. E-cigarette companies like Juul Labs target youth through fun flavors like mango and crème brulee, using tailored marketing and creating a norm where it is acceptable to use these products. 

Most youth are not aware these products contain nicotine, let alone such high amounts, putting them at risk for lifelong addiction. Many students cannot get through the school day without using, creating a challenge for school administrators and teachers. Studies show youth who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes. 

Beyond the risk for addiction, e-cigarettes contain numerous chemicals linked to risk for cavities, seizures, heart and lung disease, and cancer. Also, the aerosol given off by e-cigarettes is not just water vapor. It has tiny particles that can easily be breathed into the lungs, putting all of us at risk. These products are setting our youth up for a lifetime of health risks if we do not intervene now. 

Talk to your kids, grandkids and youth in your community about the facts. You are a voice of reason and someone they trust and look to for advice. Together, we can change this.

Melinda J. Ickes, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Kentucky.

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