When Illinois PTA first shared information about e-cigarette use among adolescents in 2014, we noted that use had more than doubled from 3.3% to 6.8% from 2011 to 2012. Today, the use of e-cigarettes or Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) has risen to nearly 15% in 2018. The growth in the use of ENDS comes at a time when adolescents are smoking traditional tobacco products and using smokeless tobacco at significantly lower rates than in recent years. This growth was one of the contributing factors to Illinois PTA’s adoption of a Resolution on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) at the 2018 Illinois PTA Convention.
One of the reasons for this increase is that ENDS are presented as safer than traditional cigarettes. This is true, but as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, cigarettes are extraordinarily dangerous products that kill approximately half of the people who use them regularly. And while ENDS are suggested as having a potential benefit for adults looking to quit smoking cigarettes, they are not considered safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
Another reason for increased use is believed to be Juul, a brand of ENDS that looks similar to a USB flash drive that has so dominated the market that vaping is now often referred to as “Juuling” among youth. The pods used in Juul products have come in “kid-appealing” flavors like candy and fruit in the past, and surveys have shown these flavors are the primary reason for the use of ENDS among youth. As the Food and Drug Administration moved to regulate ENDS use, Juul announced it was suspending in-store sales of such flavors. Education Week created a video aimed at teachers (but also useful for parents) on how to detect Juul use in the classroom.
The health concerns with ENDS starts with nicotine, a highly addictive chemical present in most ENDS liquid pods that are inserted into the ENDS and vaporized. Nicotine has been shown to harm adolescent brain development, and its concentration in ENDS pods is often the equivalent to the nicotine in one or two packs of cigarettes. Nicotine in high concentrations is toxic, and as ENDS use has increased, so has the rate of nicotine poisonings in the US, increasing from only 269 in 2011 to 3,137 in 2018.
But nicotine is not the only chemical of concern in the ENDS vapor that is inhaled and exhaled. Youth often cite ENDS as being “safe” and the vapor inhaled as only “water,” but other substances that have been found in ENDS vapor include heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead; ultrafine particles; carcinogens; and flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease. While the number of harmful chemicals in ENDS vapor is fewer than those in cigarette smoke, ENDS are by no means safe for use.
Resources for Families
- CDC on Electronic Cigarettes
- CDC on Risks of E-Cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults
- CDC E-Cigarette Infographic
- Surgeon General on E-Cigarettes and Young People
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Photo © 2016 by Mylesclark96under Creative Commons license.