Vaping is a public health crisis for US children

Vaping is a public health crisis for US children
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American children as young as second graders are reportedly vaping. This is a horrifying sign that an intervention needs to end what appears to be a juvenile obsession with electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes.  

State Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Mass.) is apparently determined to fight against the rapid rise in youth e-cigarette use, proposing a bill recently for a 75 percent excise tax on the wholesale price of vaping products and e-cigarettes.

House Democrats recently began investigating e-cigarette leader Juul Labs and its marketing strategies to children to young adults.  

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In 2018, U.S. Surgeon General Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams, called  e-cigarette use an epidemic among youth, stating, “We need to protect our kids from all tobacco products, including all shapes and sizes of e-cigarettes.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration’s National Youth Tobacco Survey shows the percentage of high school-age children reporting  current use of e-cigarettes rose by more than 78 percent between 2017 and 2018. Use among middle school-age children also increased nearly 50 percent.

The National Institutes of Health National Institute of Drug Abuse Monitoring the Future survey also shows that “America’s teens reported a dramatic increase in their use of e-cigarettes in just a single year, with 37.3 percent of 12th graders reporting use in the past 12 months, compared to 27.8 percent in 2017.”

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, in 2018, there were 1.5 million more youth e-cigarette users than in 2017, up from 20 percent to 28 percent of those who used e-cigarettes 20 of the last 30 days.

As a nurse who has cared for pediatric patients in the intensive care unit, I know how severe respiratory illness can be especially for those suffering from asthma.  Unfortunately, pediatric patients with severe asthma can succumb to the disease, resulting in death.

The known negative health risks of e-cigarette use in youth are increasing. More research is needed to fully grasp the negative impact of e-cigarettes on the heart,  but it is known that use can damage heart cells leading to cardiovascular disease. Second hand exposure to the aerosols from e-cigarettes may be related to exacerbation of asthma symptom.

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As a person’s brain is not fully developed until about 25 years of age, e-cigarettes are associated with decreasing brain development, mood disorders, nicotine addiction and the use of other abusive substances such as alcohol.

While the first electronic cigarette was patented in 1930, the first commercially successful e-cigarettes were created in China in 2003, and came to the U.S. in 2006.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that include a heating element to heat and release aerosol nicotine, or non- nicotine solutions, for inhalation. The result is similar to inhaling tobacco smoke, without the smoke.

Called “mods,” “vap pens,” “e-cigs” and “END’s” (electronic nicotine delivery systems) e-cigarettes can also be referred to as “vaping” or “JUULing.” An e-cigarette looks similar to a computer USB stick, a writing pen, and may not be recognized by parents, teachers, and coaches as a health hazard.

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that there is conclusive evidence that  e-cigarettes can explode and cause burns and injuries especially when batteries are changed or used improperly. Exposure to e-liquids can result in seizures, vomiting and brain injury. Drinking e-liquids can cause death.

The International Social Marketing Association reports that social marketing is necessary to decrease vaping in children and young adults. Unlike social media, social marketing works at finding mechanisms that improve negative behaviors such as vaping and target specific populations.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) developed a teen fact sheet on vaping. “Athletes Don’t Vape” is an initiative gaining popularity that was started by a parent who knew she had to do something upon finding out that her 12-year-old child tried vaping.  

Parents like those in Fairfax County, Va. can contact their local schools and provide more information to students and young adults about the negative health effects of vaping.

Vaping is a substance abuse public health crisis for the children and young adults in our country.

Though adult education on vaping is readily available, education directed at children and young adults is lacking. Social media influencer campaigns appear to target youth e-cigarettes users but the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission recently sent warning letters to some companies that failed to include an alert on the advertisements  that depict the products that contains nicotine.

It is time to change the focus from e-cigarette manufacturers such as Juul Labs paying  for full page ads in major daily newspapers, such as one recently in the "Chicago Tribune," stating, “Youth vaping is a serious problem.” In the ad, the company states, “We continue to invest in new technologies to further restrict youth access.”

Education on the adverse health effects about vaping need to be available and widespread. It is time to engage children and young adults in conversations about the impact of vaping on their current and future health.

No more smoke screens.

Mary Heitschmidt RN, PhD is the director of clinical research at Rush University Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital, assistant professor at Rush University College of Nursing, and a member of the Illinois American Heart Association Advocacy Committee. She is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.