Flavored e-cigarettes expose youth to health risks
Last updated 11/2/2021 at 11:36am
A study released in September from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students are currently using e-cigarettes in 2021, with more than 8 in 10 of those youth using flavored e-cigarettes. It is well established that flavors play a significant role in enticing youth and young adults to try and use tobacco products. The FDA also tells us that youth and young adults use flavored tobacco products more than other age groups. Additionally, flavored products are often the first tobacco products youth and young adults ever use.
Youth and young adults prefer sweet flavors and sweet odors, which may explain the appeal of flavored products such as fruit and candy. These young people perceive flavored tobacco products as more appealing, better tasting and perhaps even less harmful than the harsh taste of non-flavored tobacco products. Flavors, especially sweet and fruit flavors, play a role in influencing tobacco use or experimentation in youth and young adults
Closer to home, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Service tells us that in our state more than half of high school students have tried e-cigarettes (vaping), and 30 percent are currently e-cigarette users.
Vaping is not harmless
In spite of the appealing flavors, vaping and other flavored tobacco products are not without significant risk of harm. These products contain nicotine. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — SAMHSA — nicotine disrupts normal neurotransmitter functioning in the brain and negatively affects emotional and cognitive processing among youth. Over time, this changes how the brain works, resulting in nicotine’s addictive nature. The effects of nicotine are particularly harmful to youth, as nicotine exposure may adversely impact their developing brains, causing long-term effects on cognitive ability, mental health, and personality traits. Further, adolescents are vulnerable to addiction to nicotine due to being particularly susceptible to peer influences and social pressures.
In addition, the CDC reports that the use of nicotine exposes youth to a variety of risks:
• Brain risks. The part of the brain that’s responsible for decision making and impulse control is not yet fully developed during adolescence. Young people are more likely to take risks with their health and safety, including use of nicotine and other drugs. Youth and young adults are at risk for long-term, long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine. These risks include nicotine addiction, mood disorders, and permanent lowering of impulse control. Nicotine also changes the way synapses are formed, which can harm the parts of the brain that control attention and learning.
• Addiction risks. How does the nicotine in e-cigarettes affect the brain? Until about age 25, the brain is still growing. Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections — or synapses — are built between brain cells. Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Because addiction is a form of learning, adolescents can get addicted more easily than adults. The nicotine in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products can also prime the adolescent brain for addiction to other drugs such as cocaine.
• Behavior risks. E-cigarette use among youth and young adults is strongly linked to the use of other tobacco products, such as regular cigarettes, cigars, hookah and smokeless tobacco.
Taking steps to reduce youth vaping
It can be difficult to stem the tide of new and attractively disguised threat to the health of youth and others, but there are steps you can take. The Office of the U.S Surgeon General and the CDC offers these tips:
• Make your home vape-free and tobacco-free. Prohibit the use of all tobacco products in your home and vehicles, including e-cigarettes, by family members, friends and guests.
• Be a role model. Young people learn a lot from watching behaviors of other people. Living tobacco-free sets a powerful example to your kids, and to all youth. Even if you are quitting, share the reasons why you want to change and ask for support in your efforts.
You may access more information by visiting the E-cigarettes & Youth link on the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program website at https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/mtupp , or by calling the HELP Committee at 406-265-6206.
Havre Public Schools and the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line are committed to promoting safe and healthy lifestyles to become long-lived, responsible citizens. For more information on this or related topics, contact the HELP Committee at 406-265-6206.