Electronic cigarettes are used by some adolescents who otherwise wouldn’t have smoked cigarettes, according to a University of Southern California researcher speaking at a lecture in Santa Barbara on Wednesday.
Jessica Barrington-Trimis, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, said that information is the “No. 1 reason we should be worried.”
Young people who vape are more likely to try traditional cigarettes, Barrington-Trimis said, and they follow a “similar trajectory into regular smoking.”
Vaping has not been shown to be an effective cessation aid, she said. There is inadequate evidence to conclude that vaping, in general, increases smoking cessation, Barrington-Trimis said, citing a U.S. Surgeon General report on e-cigarettes.
That’s a snippet of the thought-provoking information that Barrington-Trimis told the crowd gathered at the Wolf Education and Training Center at the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center in Santa Barbara.
Vaping among youth has increased rapidly, she said, citing a 2011-19 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Tobacco Survey.
“Vaping is doing more harm than good,” Barrington-Trimis said.
For the sixth consecutive year, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among high school students (27.5 percent) and middle school students (10.5 percent) in 2019, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Tobacco products used by young students were not limited to e-cigarettes; there also were cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookahs and pipe tobacco, the 2019 study stated.
California law prohibits people younger than age 21 from purchasing any tobacco products, Barrington-Trimis explained.
How are vaping products getting into young people’s hands?
She referred to data by Truth Initiative, an anti-tobacco advocacy group. The most common way youth got their JUUL flavor pods in the past 30 days was through physical retail locations, according to Truth Initiative.
The survey found that 74 percent of youth said they obtained the device at a store or retail outlet. Fifty-two percent reported they received the product from a social source such as a family member or friend, Truth Initiative’s report stated. Six percent of youths reported that they received the JUUL flavor pods through a website, according to the nonprofit tobacco control organization.
At the event, Barrington-Trimis shared her latest study focused on vaping and said flavored e-cigarettes are appealing to youth. During her presentation, she showed images of sweet, fruity and other flavorings that could lure youths and young adults.
“Anything you would want is available,” Barrington-Trimis said of e-cigarette flavors.
She spoke about why some youths are more susceptible to using e-cigarettes, and how product packaging and in-direct marketing on social media have impacted usage. Several vaping advertisements feature young models, and e-cigarette campaigns appear on memes and cartoons on social platforms.
“These are all over social media,” Barrington-Trimis said. “With each of these advertisements, kids are getting the message that vaping is popular, cool and something they should and want to do in order to be popular.”
The nicotine in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products can affect the adolescent brain, Barrington-Trimis said, adding that nicotine is a highly addictive substance.
Barrington-Trimis’ research shed light on the rapidly changing tobacco, alternative tobacco and cannabis industry.
In the fall, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article on Barrington-Trimis’ study involving teens’ vaping product preferences.
Barrington-Trimis’ presentation asked, “What to do about youth vaping?”
She suggested education and talking to youths about dangers; assessing use and addiction with surveys; providing accurate information about risks; understanding why youth vape and suggest alternatives; seeking treatment for nicotine dependence early; that medications or nicotine replacement therapy, along with counseling, could help addicted young users to quit vaping; and advise against all vaping.
“I wish I had all the answers,” Barrington-Trimis said. “But, in the meantime, here’s what we can do.”
Wednesday’s free event was part of several Ridley-Tree Cancer Center public lectures that aim to educate and inform about topics related to cancer care and cancer prevention. Click here for more information about scheduled lectures.