Teens and e-cigs

The U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory on Dec. 18 about youth e-cigarette use. Visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website to read the advisory and learn more. The advisory shines attention on the surge in e-cigarette use among youth and urges parents, teachers, health professionals and government agencies to “know the risks, take action and protect our kids.”

According to the advisory, more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, currently use e-cigarettes.  These products have been used by some people to help stop smoking but they are not approved for this use and they are not harmless. Many e-cigarettes are packaged in intriguing ways and come in kid-friendly flavors, but contain nicotine, the addictive drug in tobacco products, which can harm the developing brain during adolescence. One of the most popular brands of e-cigarettes is JUUL; these e-cigarettes are easy to conceal (they look like a USB drive) and contain a high level of nicotine. The flavors themselves can have negative health effects, and the aerosols in e-cigarettes also contain harmful substances, which can be inhaled by the user and others nearby. E-cigarettes are also frequently used to deliver other drugs such as marijuana. There is an increasing body of data showing that youth, once introduced to nicotine via e-cigarettes, will eventually begin to use other, more dangerous tobacco products.

In Alaska, we know from Youth Risk Behavioral Survey data that e-cigarette use is more common than traditional cigarette youth among Alaska youth; 10 percent of high school students currently smoke cigarettes whereas 16 percent use e-cigarettes. Expect to hear more on this issue in the months to come both nationally and in Alaska. Many helpful educational resources, including a parent tip sheet and a health care provider conservation card, can be found on the Surgeon General’s new “Know the Risks: E-Cigarettes and Young People” webpage.  

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