How popular are e-cigarettes among tweens and teens?
• 58% of Yellowstone County high schoolers have tried e-cigarettes and 40% report being current users.
• 29% of Yellowstone County middle school students have tried e-cigarettes and 17% are current users.
Statewide, Montana students who use e-cigarettes, use them frequently. Thirteen percent said they had used on 20 or more days in the 30 days before they were surveyed. Nine percent said they use daily and 19% said they had used e-cigarette products on school property in the 30 days before they were surveyed.
Those numbers are drawn from the 2019 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a study conducted biennially through the Montana Office of Public Instruction. The data indicate that thousands of Montana kids ages 12 to 18 have used various electronic nicotine delivery systems. They use e-cigarettes at school and away from school.
The risk survey statistics are reflected in what a Missoula high senior told a Montana legislative committee in January:
“I have walked into the (school) bathroom many times to find a metallic-sweet air piercing my nose and throat. Some kids vape in class and blow it into their sleeves or shirt collars. Sometimes kids blow a thick cloud of vapor in into my face because they think it is funny. I do not want any nicotine or chemicals in my lungs. Nobody does, but the addictive properties make the right decision harder and harder to make for a lot of students. Vaping has become a social activity alongside alcohol and marijuana for many students, and many are peer-pressured into it.”
Representatives from Montana health and education organizations are asking lawmakers to protect children and teens from e-cigarettes and the manufacturers’ slick marketing to teens. Billings physicians, the Montana Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, School Administrators of Montana and others joined RiverStone Health tobacco prevention specialists in supporting local community decisions that discourage youth from e-cigarette use.
How do e-cigarettes compare with regular cigarettes?
• Both contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. E-cigarettes often give the user bigger doses of nicotine that regular cigarettes.
• Secondhand smoke from regular cigarettes contains cancer-causing substances that harm the health of people who are near smokers or in an area where someone has been smoking. Similarly, chemicals in the aerosols (sometimes incorrectly called vapors) emitted by e-cigarettes can include toxins and heavy metals that have been listed by the FDA as “harmful and potentially harmful.”
• The Journal of Adolescent Health has reported that teen smokers and e-cigarette users are five to seven times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 virus than are teens who don’t use those products. Both cigarettes and e-cigarettes can cause damage to blood vessels, mucus suppression and make users more likely to contract viral and bacterial infections.
The e-cigarette industry claims that these newer products are safe alternatives to smoking. Those claims aren’t supported by scientific evidence, which, instead, suggests that e-cigarettes pose additional risks to teen brains.
“Youth and young adults are also uniquely at risk for long-term, long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine,” the U.S. Surgeon General report has warned about e-cigarettes. “These risks include nicotine addiction, mood disorders, and permanent lowering of impulse control. Nicotine also changes the way synapses are formed, which can harm the parts of the brain that control attention and learning.”
The teen popularity of e-cigarettes is feeding the traditional cigarette market. Students who use e-cigarettes are four times as likely to start smoking regular cigarettes within a year.
Government action that would help protect our kids includes: removing all candy, fruit, sweet and other non-tobacco flavors from the market, restrictions on e-cigarette marketing and a thorough Food and Drug Administration review of all e-cigarette products. The more we learn about e-cigarettes, the more we know they are hazardous to our children’s health.
Sarah Music, a prevention health specialist at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-247-3273.