Marc MorialOp-EdOpinion

MORIAL: Vaping an Epidemic Among Teens That We Must End

“We must take aggressive steps to protect our children from these highly potent products that risk exposing a new generation of young people to nicotine. The bad news is that e-cigarette use has become an epidemic among our nation’s young people. However, the good news is that we know what works to effectively protect our kids from all forms of tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes. We must now apply these strategies to e-cigarettes, including USB flash drive shaped products such as JUUL. To achieve success, we must work together, aligning and coordinating efforts across both old and new partners at the national, state, and local levels. Everyone can play an important role in protecting our nation’s young people from the risks of e-cigarettes.” — U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams

A decade after the introduction of vaping — the inhalation of nicotine vapor rather than smoke produced by a cigarette — a growing body of evidence shows the practice is far more dangerous than assumed, and is a major gateway for teens to become addicted to nicotine.

The U.S. surgeon general calls vaping among teens an epidemic. A recent study suggested that teens who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes, and more likely to start smoking at a younger age.

Furthermore, the new generation of devices are capable of delivering higher doses of nicotine, leading to greater incidence of addiction as well as nicotine toxicity and psychiatric symptoms among teenagers that haven’t been observed in adult smokers.

“We let this Frankenstein loose without knowing what was going to happen,” Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, ominously observed in a report by CNN.

Research has also shown another possible danger in vaping among African Americans. Black smokers were more likely than whites to turn to vaping as a means of quitting smoking, but former smokers who began using e-cigarettes were more than 16 times as likely to resume tobacco smoking.

Monica Webb Hooper and Stephanie K. Kolar, who studied racial differences in e-cigarette use, concluded: “If e-cigarette use truly lowers the chances of cessation, this could have a negative impact on the health of African-American/Black smokers and widen disparities in quitting.”

For these reasons, we were glad to see recent efforts at the state and federal level to curb the use of e-cigarettes and battle nicotine addiction. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it will limit sales of many flavored e-cigarettes to brick-and-mortar outlets that require proof of age for purchase or do not admit people under 19. Stricter verification will be required for online sales And the agency held a hearing last month to consider the potential role of drug therapies in helping teens quit e-cigarettes.

Meanwhile, on the state level, legislators in Maine are considering a bill that would ban the use of e-cigarettes or vaping on school grounds. In Florida, a House committee has just approved a measure that would ban electronic smoking devices in workplaces.

As the surgeon general noted in his advisory: parents, teachers, health professionals, elected officials and community leaders must work together to address the vaping epidemic. Talk to the young people in your life about the risks of vaping. Support community efforts to restrict the use of e-cigarettes, and tell your representatives to enact tough laws aimed at restricting access to nicotine.

Morial is president of the National Urban League.

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