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Saying teenage vaping has reached epidemic proportions, the Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it is cracking down on the makers and sellers of e-cigarettes. The agency sent warning letters to retailers to keep their devices away from minors, and fined others for selling to minors.
Vaping, the act of inhaling vapors from electronic cigarettes, has emerged as the next big thing among teens who may think that flavored nicotine vapors can’t harm them. E-cigarettes, as they are commonly called, are handheld electronic devices that vaporize a fluid typically including nicotine and a flavor, such as cotton candy or bubblegum. Health officials say they are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth.
The agency had already banned sales of e-cigarettes to people under age 18. NorthShore cardiologists applaud this move and are taking it further for Illinois youth by lobbying the state to raise the age to buy all tobacco products including e-cigarettes to age 21. The NorthShore experts highlight their concerns:
E-cigarettes or so-called vaping have become popular. Why is this trend alarming?I strongly counsel against the use of e-cigarettes. We tell patients that they contain nicotine and the vapors contain propylene glycol, which breaks down to formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen. There’s also the concern for second-hand smoke from the vapors. Studies show people who smoke e-cigarettes have a greater chance of smoking regular cigarettes than those that don’t. Also, there is no evidence that e-cigarettes are effective smoking cessation tools.
What is the risk for teens?If you can prevent kids from starting to smoke in the first place you decrease the chance of them becoming chronic smokers. There is scientific evidence that the adolescent brain is more susceptible to nicotine addiction, and studies show that 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 21. It’s well documented that smoking can lead to a whole host of health issues including lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory disease and oral cancer. Has your campaign to raise the age in Illinois been successful?We started in Evanston, which was the first city in the Midwest to raise the age to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21. Chicago passed a similar ordinance earlier this year. Currently, it’s working its way through city councils in Oak Park and Skokie, and there is interest in Lake and DuPage counties. There is a lot of support out there for this, and some resistance from the tobacco industry and retailers. There could be a loss in state tax revenue if smoking rates decline but the healthcare savings would far outweigh that. There is also a Senate bill that has been passed by the Senate Health Committee that now needs to go to the entire Senate.What advice do you have for people who are struggling to quit smoking?It’s tough to stop and there’s no perfect solution. We have medications and smoking cessation aids but often they’re not successful. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way people quit is when they have a wakeup call with a heart attack. The key is to never start.