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Vaping Makes History

Unless you've been hibernating in an Icelandic snow cave, you've likely seen some of the recent headlines about how e-cigarette use among youth skyrocketed in 2018.  What was once considered by many to be a passing fad is becoming more entrenched in the culture. Many of today's adolescents have embraced the vaping lifestyle, downloading smartphone apps targeted at smoking teens, and buying expensive accessories to store and display their e-juice and assorted paraphernalia ("vape stands" will cradle your gear in walnut, natural or "titan red.")

 

In 2014, the use of e-cigarettes eclipsed traditional smoking among youth. In 2018, vaping eclipsed itself and steamrolled its way into history. It was the largest annual increase ever recorded, for any substance. When you think of over 1,000 year-to-year substance use changes that researchers at Monitoring the Future have documented since 1975, this kind of surge really gives us pause.

 

  • 8th grade - increase of 3.7% since 2018
  • 10th grade - increase of 8.5% since 2018
  • 12th grade - increase of 9.9% since 2018

 

What about the flip side?  Is vaping a good and safe alternative for teens?  Can the JUUL e-cig serve as a means of harm reduction for young people, something that would deter them from using tobacco cigarettes?  This is the pill that Big Tobacco would like all of us to swallow.  But for these questions, currently on the minds of many health researchers, it looks like the answers are all no.  New findings from our research partners at RAND has shown that, among youth aged 16-18 who had never smoked cigarettes, those who reported vaping in the last 30 days were nearly 4 times as likely to go on to smoke combustible cigarettes in the next year than those who had not vaped in the last 30 days.[1] If you tack on chemical-laden flavorings that can irritate the lungs and stomach lining, vape clouds wafting formaldehyde, arsenic, aluminum, and lead, and randomly-exploding devices, vaping emerges as a very dangerous practice, rife with risk.  What we may have on our hands is another gateway drug.

 

Project ALERT developed a curriculum focused on the three most common, problematic substances that youth were using in the '90s - alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. But since the tide has turned, and the crowned JUUL now holds court where the traditional combustible cigarette once ruled, we're encouraging our program partners to incorporate some of the myths and realities of using e-cigarettes into those lessons that have a tobacco focus.  Our latest version of the full curriculum, available for download, includes many references to e-cigarettes, and we've just published an updated version of our E-cigarette and Vaping supplemental guide.  Please take some time in these lessons to address the dangers of vaping with your students, and share a few of the most important and widespread misconceptions:

 

     …that vaping is a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes

     …that youth who prefer e-cigarettes do not use traditional cigarettes

     …that vaping carries minimized health risks

     …that e-cigarettes are a good tool for teens for cessation from regular cigarettes

 

What questions about vaping are your students asking? Are issues about traditional cigarettes re-entering the conversation? Let us know at projectalert@rand.org.  We're always interested in hearing from you!



[1] CNN.com. Why the vaping issue is just so complicated. December 17, 2018. Available at: https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/17/opinions/vaping-juul-teenagers-and-adults-dunbar-damico/index.html.

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