The Surgeon General recently issued an advisory on teen vaping, calling it an epidemic and asking for “aggressive steps” to fight it, including age limits, taxes, and restricted sales.
“Over the past year, there’s been a 78 percent increase in the number of kids using e-cigarettes,” said Heather Demorest, health promotion specialist with the Gallatin City-County Health Department.
“Looking at Montana, we actually have a higher rate of e-cigarette usage among our youth. Even more locally, in Gallatin County, as of 2017 over one-third of high school students had tried e-cigarettes,” she said.
This is concerning because it’s creating a whole new generation of people addicted to nicotine, according to Demorest.
“The most popular product among youth is the JUUL. These always contain nicotine. One pod actually has the equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes,” she said.
Demorest says nicotine has been proven to impact youth brain development—which continues through the teen years into early adulthood—and that it can have effects on memory, impulse control, and decision making that teens and parents might not be aware of.
Despite the trend toward increased e-cigarette use, Demorest says there are things the community can do to reverse it.
“First, start by educating yourself. Learn all you can about these products, the harm they can have on youth development, and in turn, educate the youth around you,” said Demorest.
“We know that youth-led interventions can be highly impactful, especially when it’s older students educating younger peers. On a community level, we know that tobacco-free environments and providing money for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, along with increasing the price on tobacco products, can all have a substantial impact on youth who start to use these products and continue to use these products,” she said.
The FDA and the Surgeon General are also calling for a ban on flavored nicotine products.
Reporting by Patrice Parks for MTN News