The American Heart Association hosted a Zoom webinar on May 5 to discuss the topic of tackling vaping and other tobacco uses in schools. The webinar was watched by 46 registered viewers from various school districts in Iowa. Guest presenters were Jeff Willett, Ph.D., vice president of integrated strategy for electronic cigarettes, American Heart Association, Amy Kimball, DO, FAAP, an Iowa chapter of the AAP pediatrician, Nathan Wear, associate superintendent from the community of Linn Mar Schools, and Matt Meendering, principal of Dowling Catholic High School.
According to Willet, the use of e-cigarettes and other related products has caused a resurgence in youth smoking in the United States, which was previously on the decline. In 1997, one in four high school students smoked, while in 2020, only one in twenty students smoked cigarettes. However, the popularization of electronic cigarettes has provided an attractive, but equally harmful, alternative to traditional cigarettes, with one in five high school students in the United States using them. One of the main reasons for this attraction is the marketing and appeal of flavored e-liquids. Willet said removing these flavored products from the market is essential for public health.
âThe vast majority of young people who use electronic cigarettes would never have started using a traditional cigarette or other tobacco product. We believe that electronic cigarettes pose significant threats to the health of young people. “
Some reduction in the use of these products occurred in 2019 with the EVALI outbreak, severe lung injury related to vaping, and the ban of certain flavored e-cigarettes by the FDA. However, FDA regulations did not apply to e-liquids used in disposable open-tank e-cigarettes or menthol e-cigarettes.
âThe fight against Big Tobacco is constantly evolving,â Willet said. âWe need to be vigilant with the new products that the industry introduces, and we need to fill the gaps that Big Tobacco is successfully exploiting to continue to sell its products and create dependency on new generations.â
While e-cigarettes, vaping and other related products are often sold as healthy alternatives to smoking, or even as a means to help people quit smoking, Kimball said these products increasingly contain more. of nicotine, one “capsule” equivalent to a pack of twenty cigarettes.
âMany young people go through several capsules a day as they become more and more addicted. Their nicotine concentrations are simply astronomical right now. Not only are we worried about their consumption of combustible cigarettes, but also about the use of other drugs. It becomes a gateway product for them. “
According to Kimball, statistics for Iowa show a higher percentage of use than the national average with 20.1% of high school students using e-cigarettes. This poses several health risks to the brain, lungs and blood vessels leading to long-term cardiovascular disease. In addition to the high levels of nicotine, the chemicals used to create flavors are toxic to human cells. The most serious flavor threats are cinnamon and cherry. Smokers of e-cigarettes are five times more likely to have severe effects from COVID-19 and seven times more likely to experience complications if they use both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes.
To tackle the use of these harmful substances in schools, Meendering and Wear proposed updating school policies to ensure these substances are taken into account, as well as placing more emphasis on mental health. students. A good education of the students is also essential to fight against the idea that electronic cigarettes are safe. Kimball and Wear said the key to preventing the spread of new addicts among young people is to empower them to hold themselves accountable and remove the social motivation that encourages new children to try tobacco products.
âPeer support instead of pressure can be powerful,â Kimball said. âSome students won’t be worried about the consequences of addiction, but they might wonder how much it will cost them over two months, for example. I try to find their “motto” which makes it important to them. “
âIn my experience, I think kids need to hear from other kids,â Wear added, referring to testimonial videos from teens regarding their negative vaping experience. âThey listen to their peers. This is why these videos are so powerful because they are students talking about their experiences. “