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Teen vaping

Vaping is unhealthy, especially for children, teens and young adults. That is the key point to communicate about e-cigarette sales and use.

Children's doctors and public health officials have been sounding alarms over the sudden, immense popularity of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) among children and teens. Most fluids used in vaping and pods contains nicotine. One pod can contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

This matters because nicotine is the highly addictive chemical that has hooked smokers for generations and recently has hooked an estimated 3 million American youth on ENDS. The developing human brain is at greater risk for addiction to nicotine than the mature adult brain. This is a major reason why most people who smoke started as youth or young adults. Relatively few people pick up the habit later in life.

This is why the state of Montana, like several other states, has enacted a ban on sales of ENDS flavored liquids that are most likely to appeal to young users.

Montana vape shops and the national vape industry oppose such flavor bans. 

Last spring, when Montana high school and middle school students were surveyed, the No. 1 reason they gave for using electronic vapor products was "friend or family member used them." The second most frequent reason was "they are available in flavors, such as mint, candy, fruit or chocolate."

The 2019 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey also found that many students who had used ENDS thought those devices "are less harmful than other forms of tobacco."

In Montana District Court in Hamilton, Judge Jennifer Lint heard evidence for and against the state's public health emergency ban on ENDS. This month, in her 28-page opinion that discontinued a preliminary delay in the flavored vaping product ban, Lint found credible testimony to support the public health rule:

  • Dr. Lauren Wilson, a pediatrician at Community Medical Center in Missoula, testified that the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is in favor of the emergency rule because youth who vape are four times more likely to transition to traditional tobacco.
  • Flavors are an effective on-ramp for youths to try nicotine.
  • Nicotine has long term effects on the brain; it affects executive functioning, makes early users more susceptible to addiction and nicotine addiction is very difficult to treat in children.
  • Wilson's concern is that a new generation of youth is getting addicted to nicotine, and while some negative effects are seen immediately (in serious and fatal e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury), others may not appear for 20 to 30 years.
  • Dan Kimzey, principal at Hamilton High School, testified that he has observed youth who have never tasted tobacco or tried a tobacco product getting addicted to nicotine by sharing or bartering vape devices and refillable pods.
  • Missoula School Resource Officer Jeff Lloyd testified that he frequently cites students for minor in possession of vaping devices, accessories and liquids and that the Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey findings that 60% of high schools students have used ENDS reflects what he sees in schools. The YRBS also found that 8.7% of Montana students vaped every day in the month before the survey.

Why do kids vape?

"Every single class said the same thing: because they think it's cool, or because their friends are doing it, or peer pressure," Robert Miller, a Billings school resource officer at Ben Steele and Will James middle schools, told Gazette reporter Matt Hoffman this fall. 

How do they get e-cigarettes, pods and vaping liquids?

From a variety of sources, according to the Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey: borrowing, giving someone else money to buy them, buying themselves in a store, getting them from a person who can legally buy, on the internet, taking them from a store or a person.

The ban on fruity and candy e-cigarette flavors will make it harder for teens and children to get these substances, but not impossible. The ban targets supply. Parents, teachers, peer groups and community leaders must also target demand. The message to Montanans of all ages should be: e-cigarettes and vaping aren't cool, they are nicotine traps. Other chemicals that are heated in ENDS are known to be toxic. Vaping has been popular for such a short time that the scientific research on all its risks has not been done.

There is evidence that adult smokers may be able to quit cigarettes by switching to vaping. There is no evidence of benefit from vaping for people who don't already smoke. There is serious risk to the brains of children and young people who vape and possibly to those around them who breathe in the aerosolized chemicals from the vapor.

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