By Melisa Damcevska, Preventionist I
The use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or “vapes” has skyrocketed in the past several years, particularly among adolescents who view the behavior as much safer than smoking traditional cigarettes.
The perception held by many is that e-cigarettes cannot be harmful because they contain only water and flavoring, and products can be bought that are labeled “nicotine-free” and “organic”. This perception, along with marketing techniques of the c-cigarette industry, has some arguing that a new generation of smokers is on the rise.
Big money tobacco companies have already invested in the up-and-coming e-cigarette companies, like Altria – the maker of Marlboro – investing $12.8 billion in Juul, an e-cigarette company whose net worth is valued at $38 billion and controls 75% of the e-cigarette market. (Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/20/altria-takes-stake-in-juul-a-pivotal-moment-for-the-e-cigarette-maker.html)
With flavor options from mango to mint to chocolate to apple juice and cotton candy, to everything in between, the appeal of these e-cigarette products is directed towards youth. Because the brain is not fully developed until the ages 25-30, any substance use before then, like an exposure to nicotine, can increase the likelihood of becoming dependent. In other words, a youth who starts using e-cigarettes is more likely to develop a dependence to nicotine because their brain is not yet fully developed. According to the 2016 Middlesex County PRIDE Survey, 17.6% of high school seniors reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. That is why prevention, providing education and raising awareness about the associated risks and the marketing strategies of these e-cigarette companies is critical in reducing these rates.
Melisa Damcevska, a Preventionist from the Wellspring Center for Prevention, provided youth e-cigarette tobacco presentations to middle school youth at Samuel E. Shull Middle School and William C. McGinnis in Perth Amboy and Avenel and Colonia Middle Schools in Woodbridge, New Jersey. Students were able to participate in a Myth-Fact trivia game to showcase their own knowledge, as well as dispel the myths that many people, not only students, perceive to be true about e-cigarettes. Students were also given the tools to breakdown the marketing of e-cigarette products and learn the dangers of smoking and vaping at a younger age.
Raising awareness and education for this topic is critical and is the first step in creating a shift in beliefs and ultimately, a reduction in the use of e-cigarettes among youth. Parents and guardians are encouraged to learn more about the topic and have conversations with their youth when the topic arises. Opening the lines of communication with youth can better prepare them to make healthier choices in their own lives.