Schools and parents are becoming increasingly aware — and concerned — that e-cigarettes are a growing threat to the health of teens and preteens in Mississippi and the nation.
Introduced to the market as a safe alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes are nicotine delivery devices that are supposed to help people quit smoking. They deliver nicotine in puffs of water vapor infused with nicotine and flavoring, hence the name “vaping.” They were not supposed to have the by-products that help make cigarettes so deadly, but they do. The CDC reports that vaping liquid can be poisonous to children and adults.
Now Yale Medicine reports that in the 12 years that e-cigarettes have been available in the US, vaping devices have not been proven to help smokers quit. For teens, vaping increases the risk that they will later smoke regular cigarettes by addicting them when they are most susceptible.
The e-cigarettes most popular among young people are pod mods and Juuls. Juuls are sleek and high-tech, and are small enough to be hidden in a fist or a pocket. They were introduced in flavors designed to entice teens and pre-teens, like Gummy Bear and Chocolate Treat. And they deliver a real nicotine punch. Juuls and other mod pods use nicotine salts to deliver a higher and more addictive concentration of nicotine, making them even more dangerous to developing brains.
Yale Medicine stresses that because the adolescent brain is still developing, teens are extremely sensitive to nicotine’s effects. Nicotine not only stokes the addiction centers in teens’ brains, but it also interferes with memory and attention processing — the very mental skills adolescents need to be successful at school and in the world.
CNN and the Wall Street Journal are calling Juuls and other e-cigarette use an epidemic among US high schoolers. The CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey has found that e-cigarettes are since 2014 the most commonly used tobacco product among teens and young adults
.The CDC survey found that 20.8 percent of high school students and 4.9 percent of middle school students are using some brand of e-cigarettes. This surge in popularity is due in part to targeted advertising to young people on social media, and to free samples at events like music festivals.
This legislative session there is a chance to take two good steps to combat e-cigarette use among our teens and pre-teens. Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall and Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford as well as former Rep. Cory Wilson, R-Madison and Rep. Patricia Willis, R-Diamondhead have introduced bills to outlaw the use of e-cigarettes in schools. The bills would make a clear ban on the sale of all alternative nicotine products, or of e-cigarette cartridges or components, to anyone under age 18, and would ban any K-12 student from bringing an alternative nicotine product or its components to school.
Three of the bills would also make it more difficult for teens to buy Juuls and other e-cigarettes by penalizing use of fake IDs to make a purchase and permitting minors to help in law enforcement stings designed to catch vendors who knowingly sell to them. Willis’ bill and another bill by Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson would tax alternative nicotine products like Juuls the same as any other nicotine delivery product such as cigarettes or cigars.
All tobacco products are a burden for Mississippi’s health system, including Medicaid. Use of tobacco products contributes to cancer and heart attacks among adults, asthma and low birth weight among children and babies exposed to the smoke. The one more big thing we should all be asking Mississippi legislators to do this year, that has overwhelming public support, is to raise our state’s tobacco tax by $1.50 a pack.