For more than 100 years, Breathe New Hampshire, a statewide non-profit, has focused on critical issues related to lung health by providing educational programs, advocating for public health, and supporting scientific research to prevent, eliminate, and treat lung disease. While many of our programs are inclusive of COPD, asthma, air quality, and lung cancer, we have remained focused on the public health issue of tobacco use disorder, a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. With the emergence of electronic cigarettes this century, use of these products by youth and teens in recent years has become a substantial public health priority for our organization.
Our respiratory system is our body’s filter and critical to everyday life. Breathing is so important to life that it happens automatically. If you didn’t breathe, you couldn’t live. Like our brains, our lungs continue to develop into our early to mid-20’s. Both smoking and vaping can irritate and inflame the lungs, possibly resulting in permanent damage. Inhaling smoke or vaping aerosol can also weaken the body’s immune system. At any age, an individual who smokes or vapes is more susceptible to getting a respiratory virus like COVID-19.
E-cigarette use amongst youth and teens has dramatically increased in New Hampshire over recent years. The percentage of high school students who have used an electronic vapor product in the last 30 days increased by 10% from 23.8% in 2017 to 33.8% in 2019. (2019 NH YRBS). Likewise, the percentage of high school students who have ever used an electronic vapor product increased from 41.1% to 49.8% (2019 NH YRBS). Prior to COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had tracked cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI). As of February 2020, CDC reported 2,807 hospitalized EVALI cases and 68 deaths. All cases were linked to a history of using e-cigarette products, with many reporting the addition of Vitamin E acetate or THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a psychoactive, mind altering substance found in marijuana. As teen and young adult use continues to rise, the need for vaping and teen nicotine addiction prevention programs has never been greater.
Much like Big Tobacco did several decades ago with cigarettes, vape companies target and entice young customers to try their products. Colorful and sleek in design, many vape devices are marketed as being discreet “to be used where smoking is not permitted”. Marketing tactics include the use of flavored products and ads and social media campaigns which suggest vaping as a way to socialize with friends. Flavors mask the harshness of the tobacco and variety of chemicals and metals in these products. Most vape products contain nicotine. Many vapes actually have a much higher nicotine concentration than cigarettes. The adolescent brain is still developing into the early 20’s and is uniquely susceptible to nicotine addiction. 88% of adult smokers started before the age of 18. Exposure to nicotine at this age can become addictive for a young person, potentially creating a future customer for this industry. Promoted as safer than cigarettes, we do not yet know the long-term health effects of vaping.
It is important to note that since these products entered the United States in 2007, none of the vape companies in this country have applied or been approved to sell their devices as a cessation tool to help people quit smoking. New vape devices are constantly being introduced, challenging policy and regulation to keep pace. Over 450 devices and thousands of flavors are available. Around the country, some federal and local legal action has been taken. However, the industry continues to be not fully regulated and enforcement of existing regulations is lacking. All of this has contributed to the current youth vaping epidemic facing our nation today. The youth and teens are the guinea pig generation for these products.
At Breathe New Hampshire, we believe prevention starts early with awareness and education. In response to the youth vaping epidemic we developed an education program in early 2018 called Vaping Unveiled™: What Everyone Needs to Know. The program was created to educate youth, parents, schools and the community about the dangers of youth nicotine addiction through vaping e-cigarettes and provide resources to help teens quit. As schools continue to learn remotely throughout the remainder of the school year, Breathe New Hampshire now offers our Vaping Unveiled™ program virtually to accommodate the demand for education and prevention surrounding vaping and nicotine addiction. While this is a stressful and uncertain time for all of us, protecting youth and teens from the effects of nicotine addiction and potential lung disease remains our priority.
Resources to help teens quit vaping:
o My Life My Quit: www.mylifemyquit.com Text QUIT to 47848 or download the quitSTART
o Truth Initiative – This Is Quitting https://truthinitiative.org/thisisquitting
o SmokefreeTEEN: https://teen.smokefree.gov/
For more information on e-cigarettes/vaping or to learn about our virtual Vaping Unveiled™ program please visit: https://breathenh.org/programs/vaping-unveiled