KERRY HUBARTT COLUMN: E-cigarettes, vaping, more prevalent among teens

Kerry Hubartt

We’ve all seen the emergence of “vapes” stores throughout Fort Wayne. However, the advent of electronic cigarettes, which came about as an alternative to regular cigarettes and a means to help smokers kick the habit, has not convinced me of their value to society.

I don’t believe I would feel any less alarmed if I saw one of my grandchildren puffing on a “vape” than a traditional cigarette.

E-cigarettes (electronic nicotine delivery systems) are battery-operated devices for inhaling an aerosol, which may contain nicotine, flavorings or other chemicals. The devices may be called vapes, vape pens, e-cigs, e-hookahs, hookah pens or mods. They may look like real cigarettes, cigars or pipes. The brand name Juul, which is the most popular e-cigarette device, looks like a USB flash drive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are more than 460 different e-cigarette brands on the market.

One reason I’m uneasy with e-cigarettes is that it substitutes one habit that we know causes cancer, with a similar habit, both of which exhibit and reinforce a dependency among “smokers.”

While I realize it can be a monumental and, for many, a hopeless task to kick the smoking habit, replacing it with the same, but safer, kind of instrument may have its own problems. And the jury is still out when it comes to an overall evaluation of the health effects of e-cigarettes.

“Early evidence,” says the NIDA, “suggests that e-cigarette use may serve as an introductory product for preteens and teens who then go on to use other tobacco products, including cigarettes.”

The institute cites a pair of studies, one showing that young people who use e-cigarettes prior to entering the 9th grade are more likely than others to smoke traditional tobacco products within the next year, and another showing that high school students who used e-cigarettes in the last month were about seven times more likely to smoke cigarettes within the following six months, compared to students who didn’t use e-cigarettes.

The Allen County Board of Health cites data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention that shows e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used form of tobacco by youth in the U.S.

E-cigarettes “typically contain nicotine, flavorings and other additives that users inhale through the device,” says the CDC report. “Research has shown nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing brain.”

Thus, the CDC insists, there is enough evidence to justify the prevention of the use of such e-cig devices.

To complicate matters, the design of e-cigarette devices allow them to be used to deliver other drugs besides nicotine, such as marijuana. The Associated Press reported last week on a school-based survey that shows nearly one in 11 students in the U.S. have used marijuana in e-cigarettes.

The devices use cartridges that can be filled with substances that can be vaporized, including marijuana. E-cig aficionados in states where marijuana is legal may purchase refillable cartridges of liquid containing THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets people high.

The latest data from the FDA, reported in the Washington Post, shows a 75 percent increase in vaping among high school students this year compared to 2017. The South Bend Tribune reported that in Indiana, “29 percent of high school students reported vaping.”

The rise in the number of teenagers who use e-cigarettes has worried health officials who fear kids will get addicted to nicotine and be more likely to try cigarettes. The AP recently reported that the Food and Drug Administration gave the five largest e-cigarette makers 60 days to come up with plans to stop underage use of their products.

Although they are proving helpful to adults, e-cigarettes seem to be a different animal for teens, who are lured to their use by the marketing of liquid nicotine in flavors such as bubble gum and chocolate chip cookie dough. The FDA reportedly might consider removing those flavored products from the market if manufacturers don’t come up with other solutions to reduce teen use of vapes.

As far as I’m concerned, that would be a good first step.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.