The good news? Fewer U.S. teens are smoking than in previous decades, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey. In 2000, 28 percent of high school students smoked; that number dropped to 7.6 percent in 2017, a whopping 73 percent decrease.
The bad news? Student use of e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” is on the rise, so much so that the U.S. Surgeon General declared vaping an epidemic, with nearly 3 million students, 21 percent, using some form of an e-cigarette. The same survey that showed the decline of cigarette use among teens also illustrated the meteoric rise of vaping among high school students, a jump of 78 percent from 2017 to 2018.
So what’s the attraction? According to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Association, students see vaping as a safer alternative to cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Couple that with the candy and fruity flavors, the ease in which an e-cigarette can be concealed (the most popular e-cigarette is the Juul, which looks like a flash drive and can be charged in a laptop’s USB port) and the fact that vaping doesn’t smell offensive or make a mess, and it’s easy to see why students might be drawn in.
Curiosity is also a factor of teens trying it for the first time, and companies that manufacture vaping products and accessories are marketing their wares to a younger crowd. Vaping in school bathrooms and locker rooms have become commonplace; some bolder users will even vape in class.
The downside, however, is it’s not as safe as an alternative as one might think. According to KidsHealth, the nicotine in e-cigarettes is very addictive, can slow brain function and development and can increase the risk of other types of addiction as kids transition into adults. E-cigarettes contain higher levels of nicotine, and because of the many flavors available, students may not even realize what they’re inhaling.
And it’s not just a trend in larger schools. An article in December’s edition of The Prowl, the student newspaper at Powell High School, addressed the issue at length. Prowl reporter Kayla Kolpitcke interviewed several of her current classmates who vape or have at least tried it, as well as school administrators, who admit that it’s a concern at PHS. The fact remains that nicotine is an illegal substance to possess under the age of 18, and vaping, like smoking, is prohibited on school grounds.
So what can be done to curb the rising popularity of vaping? According to the Centers for Disease Control, the first, and best, line of defense is to talk to your kids. If you’ve had your own struggles with addiction in the past, discuss it with them. Know the facts, and be prepared to listen. Also be prepared to answer questions as to why you discourage vaping. And if possible, set a positive example by being tobacco-free.
It’s time to turn the numbers around, and the best place to start is at home.