Youth Increasingly Vulnerable To E-Cigarette Marketing and Use
By Arvind M. Dhople, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Florida Tech // March 4, 2016
States considering raising legal age for tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – On January 1, 2016, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), to 21.
While its comprehensive approach to addressing tobacco use in Hawaii led to quantifiable decreases in deaths due to smoking, an increase in targeted marketing to its youth and young adults and new technology in the form of e-cigarettes required its state to take additional measures to protect its young people.
Some cities in the United States, like New York City, Boston and San Francisco have already raised the minimum age to 21 for purchasing tobacco and e-cigarettes
USE OF E-CIGARETTES ON THE RISE IN U.S. YOUTH
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States. It causes many different cancers as well as chronic lung diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis, heart disease, pregnancy-related problems, and many other serious health problems.
Each day, 2,100 youth and young adults become daily smokers, and 9 out of 10 smokers start before the age of 18. It is estimated that approximately 18 percent of high school students currently smoke cigarettes.
Preventing tobacco use among youth is critical to ending the tobacco epidemic in the United States. If smoking continues at the current rate among youth in this country, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness.
That’s about 1 of every 13 Americans in that age group alive today. Youth who use multiple products are at higher risk for developing nicotine dependence and might be more likely to continue using tobacco into adulthood. (Tobacco is an addictive substance because it contains the chemical nicotine, just like heroin or cocaine).
Cigarette smoking has declined among U.S. youth in recent years, but the use of e-cigarettes and some other tobacco products has increased. For example, 4.3 percent of middle school students in 2011 smoked cigarettes, while in 2014 it was 2.5 percent. Same for high school students – 15.8 percent in 2011 against 9.2 percent in 2014. However, current use of electronic cigarettes increased among middle and high school students from 2011 to 2014 – middle school students 0.6 percent in 2011 against 3.9 percent in 2014, and for high school students it’s 1.5% percent in 2011, rocketing up to 13.4 percent in 2014.
E-CIGARETTES HEAVILY MARKETED TO YOUTH DESPITE GRAVE CONCERN FOR LONG-TERM HEALTH RISKS
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated products designed to turn nicotine and other chemicals into vapor. You then inhale the vapor. These may contain ingredients that are known to be toxic to humans. Because clinical studies about the safety of e-cigarettes have not been submitted to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is not clear if they are safe, which chemicals they contain, or how much nicotine is being inhaled. Additionally, e-cigarettes may be attractive to kids. Thus, with e-cigarettes there are many unknowns, including the unknown health effects of long-term use.
About 2.4 million middle and high school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2014. Middle and high school students are being exposed to e-cigarette advertisements in retail stores, on the Internet, in magazines/newspapers, and on TV/movies.
E-cigarette companies have rapidly increased advertising spending, from $6.4 million in 2011 to $11.5 million in 2014. Many of the themes used in advertising for cigarettes are also now used to advertise e-cigarettes – including sex, independence, and rebellion.
Tobacco use continues to be a major health threat to children, adolescents and adults. The developing brains of children and teens are particularly vulnerable to nicotine, which is why the growing popularity of e-cigarettes among adolescents is so alarming and dangerous to their long-term health.
PUBLIC SUPPORT OF TOBACCO PREVENTION AND CONTROL PROGRAMS IMPERATIVE
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (ACP) should be encouraged to support raising the minimum age to purchase cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to 21, and be on the forefront of efforts to reduce e-cigarette advertising.
The key is for the FDA to regulate electronic nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes, the same way it does other tobacco products. At the same time we can fund tobacco prevention and control programs at Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-recommended levels to prevent youth use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
If we all can work together to support efforts to implement and sustain proven youth tobacco prevention actions, I am sure Florida will be the second state in the country to raise the legal age to 21.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Arvind Dhople graduated from the University of Bombay and then joined Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, first as a post- doctoral fellow and then Asst. Professor. In 1980, he joined Florida Tech as a Professor and Director of their Infectious Diseases Lab. His specialty is microbial biochemistry and he performed research in leprosy and tuberculosis. He is a Fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology and has published nearly 150 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He has also served as an advisor to the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, German Leprosy Relief Association, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus at Florida Tech and a free-lance writer.