On Dec. 4, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 2,291 cases of hospitalized e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) from 50 states, the District of Columbia and 2 U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands). The number of confirmed deaths has climbed to 48 in 25 states and the District of Columbia. While it actively investigates growing health concerns, the CDC released a health advisory strongly cautioning people to refrain from vaping products, advising youth and young adults not to use e-cigarette or vaping products at all.
As the county of Ventura’s health officer, I am deeply concerned about the rising number of teens using flavored e-cigarettes. According to the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, there was a 78 percent surge in e-cigarette use among high school students from 2017 to 2018. Youth use of tobacco products in any form is unsafe. If cigarette smoking continues at the current rate among youth in this country, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness. That’s about one in every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger who are alive today. Teens who vape are three times more likely to smoke cigarettes within a year.
Most kids don’t realize that flavored e-cigarettes are high in nicotine. Sweet flavors mask the harsh taste of tobacco, making it easier for kids to smoke. Tobacco Free California’s FlavorsHookKids.org reports that teens are seven times more likely to vape nicotine than adults, and four out of five kids who vape nicotine use flavors. As long as tobacco products are allowed to be flavored, they will continue to entice our kids to become the next generation of tobacco addicts. In a recent California Healthy Kids Survey, one in 10 seventh graders, one in five ninth graders and one in three 11th graders in Ventura County say they have vaped. Further, 60 percent of ninth-grade students said they feel obtaining vapes is easy.
It is a common misconception among youth that e-cigarette vapor is safer to inhale. However, the vapor that causes the plume is an aerosol, not a vapor. This aerosol contains toxins and ultrafine particles with varying levels of toxicants and heavy metals that are emitted in the air and into the lungs. Early research shows that using e-cigarettes can lead to lung disease, upper respiratory issues, increased blood pressure, nausea and more. Vaping is an ENDS, an electronic NICOTINE delivery system, which implies it is delivering nicotine to the brain. Nicotine is a powerful, mood-altering substance that is extremely toxic and addictive. When taken in high doses, it is a poison, and two-three drops of pure nicotine can kill a person. It can disrupt the growth of brain circuits that control attention, learning and susceptibility to addiction, increase risk of psychiatric disorders, cognitive impairment and attention deficit. Other chemicals found in e-cigarettes include propylene glycol (which is found in antifreeze), rubidium (found in fireworks) and ethylbenzene (found in pesticides and paint).
Local jurisdictions in Ventura County are making positive strides toward reducing access to vaping and flavored tobacco products to minors. The city of Ventura is considering adopting a tobacco retail license ordinance, and the Ventura County Board of Supervisors recently voted to prepare an emergency ordinance that would place a moratorium on new vape and tobacco stores while the county prepares a licensing program as well. These programs could add restrictions that limit youth access to vaping products and place a ban on flavored tobacco products, which would go a long way in deterring minors away from flavored tobacco and tobacco addiction.
We need to raise awareness about the risks of youth smoking and vaping through all social media, community outreach and radio and print media. Ventura County Action on Smoking and Health is a local coalition that is working on educating the public and sharing information on what we all can do to combat this vaping epidemic.
I urge parents and educators to watch out for warning signs that teens could be vaping, including personality shifts, depression, irritability and increased thirst. Look for opportunities to open a discussion with youth, ask open-ended questions and be ready with the facts and dangers of vaping.
Visit SmokeFreeVC.org for more information and educational links. Connect on Facebook at Ventura County Action on Smoking and Health. If you are ready to quit smoking or vaping, call 805-201-STOP (7867).
Robert Levin, MD, is the health officer for Ventura County.
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [accessed 2019 Feb 28].
2 Source: www.stillblowingsmoke.org
3 Ventura County California Healthy Kids Survey, 2017-18