Healthbeat: Health officials fear rise in teen e-cigarette use as students return to school

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LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — It’s a startling statistic: youth vaping has increased 73 percent in the past four years. The surgeon general calls vaping a “youth epidemic”.

The American Lung Association reports nearly 8,000 kids will start vaping every day, a statistic that concerns health advocates as students return to in-person learning.

According to the American Lung Association, over 5.4 million kids in the United States vape, and that number has steadily increased over the past several years.

The number of teens using e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2017 to 2019. To combat this, the American Lung Association has launched a Vape-Free Schools Initiative to help middle and high school students who may be addicted or who are caught vaping on campus to become vape-free.

“Unfortunately, once the kids start, many times they have trouble coming off and I’ve seen a couple of kids here in the office that they just can’t get off of it because it’s just so addictive to nicotine which is horrible,” said Jeffery Kile, MD who is a pediatrician at PAK Pediatrics.

Students often start vaping because of peer pressure and mental health issues and become hooked on e-cigarettes which health advocates claim target tweens and teens.

“They come in 15,000 flavors, kid-friendly flavors like Captain Crunch and strawberry cheesecake and bubble gum. These are not flavors that were designed to appeal to adults. They were specifically designed to appeal to kids,” said Laurie Rubiner, executive vice president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

While youth e-cigarette rates dropped in 2020 when many students learned from home during the pandemic, Rubiner fears a resurgence in the coming months.

“We’ve partnered with the National Association of School Nurses to make sure that parents are aware,” said Rubiner.

“If we see something happening at school, we let parents know and vice-versa. But education is also key so really making sure everyone is aware of the dangers and risks of addiction and e-cigarettes,” said Linda Mendonca who is President of the National Association of School Nurses

Risks like these are why groups like Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids are calling on the FDA to ban flavored e-cigarette products.

“That’s the most important thing we can do. If we didn’t have these flavored products, kids would not be addicted,” said Rubiner.

The FDA has a deadline of September 9th to act on banning flavored e-cigarettes.

In the meantime, head to the American Lung Association’s website to learn more about the Vape-Free Schools Initiative.

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