by Makenzie Plusnick —
The U.S. Surgeon General recently declared youth and young adult e-cigarette use an epidemic.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that since 2017, e-cigarette use in high school students increased by 78 percent and in middle school students by 48 percent. The number of students using e-cigarettes has risen to 3.6 million.
According to the FDA, nearly 90 percent of all smokers began smoking before they were 18 and 95 percent by the age of 21. Only about 1 percent of smokers began after the age of 25.
One 22-year-old Tarleton State University student said she started smoking e-cigarettes because she was around someone else who smoked.
“I was not a smoker before, but I had started working with someone who vaped. It started off as curiosity and turned into a habit. Most people who vape were previously smokers but I’m meeting more people that started the same way,” she said.
The Surgeon General’s website states nearly three out of five high school student smokers also use e-cigarettes. Contrary to the argument that e-cigarette users are less likely to smoke actual cigarettes, several studies show youth who smoke e-cigarettes are more likely to begin smoking other tobacco products. The Surgeon General’s website also warns that adolescents can more easily become addicted to substances because their brains develop connections and learn to depend on substances faster than adults.
A 19-year-old Tarleton student says vaping did not become a habit for her.
“No, I don’t think I rely on them because I can go for weeks or months without using them. It’s just something I use when I’m stressed,” she added.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb hopes to make smoking e-cigarettes less accessible and less appealing to youth and young adults.
“The data make unmistakably clear that, if we’re to break the cycle of addiction to nicotine, preventing youth initiation on nicotine is a paramount imperative,” Gottlieb wrote in a statement last November.
The FDA is striving to make youth access to these products impossible. Over the past two years, the FDA have launched campaigns and worked with the FDA to help lower the number of minors smoking tobacco products.
The Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan includes encouraging e-liquid manufacturers to stop advertising to youth through kid-friendly imagery and working with other companies to prevent sales of these products. In his statement, Gottlieb announced that he was directing a policy change as newer, higher statistics came in.
Gottlieb’s policy change would put extra restrictions on in-store and online purchases of e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes to assure that the consumer is of legal age, as well as a proposal to ban flavored cigars, remove any marketing targeted toward children, and ban menthol in combustible tobacco products. Gottlieb also discussed eventually banning flavored e-cigarette liquid but is aware that many adults use this as a means to quit smoking.
“This approach is informed by the potential public health benefit for adult cigarette smokers who may use these ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) products of a part of a transition away from smoking,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb refuses to allow the number of youth smoking e-cigarettes to continue to rise. “These increases must stop. And the bottom line is this,” he said. “I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes. We won’t let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, to continue to build. We’ll take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing.”
The 22-year-old Tarleton student says she hopes to quit using e-cigarettes.
“Over the last few months I have been considering it more and more due to the nature of the product. At the end of the day… putting anything that is foreign in your lungs that is not medical cannot be good for you, and… we truly do not yet know the damage that it does to our bodies even though reports claim that it’s ‘healthier’ than smoking cigarettes.”
Students interviewed for this story wished to remain anonymous, so they would not be identified as vapers.