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The Surgeon General of the United States issued a rare warning this week, calling for parents, educators, and doctors to do more to combat the rising epidemic of teens using e-cigarettes, which may pose long-term health risks and lead to addictions.
In an official advisory on Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams highlighted the problems associated with vaping habits among many teens, and urged the community to do more to on awareness, education, and ways to stop the growing epidemic of e-cigarette use among teens.
This kind of warning is only issued when there is a significant public health threat, with only three other advisory statements like this issued over the past 10 years.
The advisory urges parents to focus on the signs of vaping and learn what questions to ask their children. The advisory is also a call to action for parents, teachers, health care professionals and regulators to focus on an effort to enforce current restrictions and enact new regulations.
Parents, teachers, and health care professionals were directed to the Surgeon General’s Know the Risks e-cigarette information website, which include information on how to recognize the devices, the harm it can cause to teens, how to help a teen avoid vaping, and help those who are addicted already to quit using e-cigarettes.
For example, learning teen slang can be tremendously helpful. If a teen is asked if they smoke or use tobacco, they will likely say no. Yet, if they are asked if they vape or JUUL, they may answer yes.
The advisory also called for regulatory agencies in cities and states to include e-cigarettes in smoke free indoor policies, to restrict teen access to the products, to restrict e-cigarette flavors, and called on the federal government to restrict advertising of the products, much like big tobacco.
“The bad news is that e-cigarette use has become an epidemic among our nation’s young people. However, the good news is that we know what works to effectively protect our kids from all forms of tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes,” Adams said. “We must now apply these strategies to ecigarettes, including USB flash drive shaped products such as JUUL.”
New data from the National Institutes of Health indicates the number of high school seniors who use e-cigarettes increased 75% from 2017 to 2018. The number spiked from about 28% of seniors vaping, up to 37% of seniors.
Roughly one in five high school students now vape. Since e-cigarettes have come on the market in 2007, youth e-cigarette use has increased an astounding 900%.
Most teens recognize tobacco cigarettes are unsafe, but do not understand the dangers vaping poses, according to a study published in October. Many see vaping as cool and safe, as many companies initially touted e-cigarettes as a safe way to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes.
Adams emphasized the negative effects vaping can have on teens. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive and harmful to the developing adolescent brain. E-cigarettes also increase a teens risk for addiction to other drugs later.