The number of young people consuming nicotine products has skyrocketed to its highest total in 19 years. The nicotine-addiction industry is working overtime to get young people hooked as early as possible to ensure the long-term survival of this market. If it means trading young people’s health for a few extra dollars, greed wins the argument every time.
According to a Dec. 5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 53.3% of high school students nationwide and 24.3% of middle school students have tried tobacco products. The report says 27.5% of high schoolers and 10.5% of middle schoolers had used nicotine filled e-cigarettes within the past 30 days. That contrasts with a mere 3.2% of adults who used e-cigarettes in 2018.
Although marketers insist e-cigarettes were intended to help adults quit smoking tobacco, vaping has clearly become the gateway for young people to get hooked.
For policymakers, this presents a conundrum because the health benefits of e-cigarettes over tobacco smoking warrant keeping this option available for adults. The goal must be to craft tougher laws to punish those who target children, particularly with nicotine-laced flavors like “fruity freeze” and “strawberry cheesecake.”
The CDC survey showed that 55.3% of kids tried e-cigarettes because they were “curious about them” while 22.4% were intrigued by the flavors. Almost all, 86.3%, had come in contact with some form of nicotine-product advertisement.
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According to the anti-tobacco group Truth Initiative, youths under 25 are three times more likely to smoke fruit-flavored e-cigarettes than adults.
Britain has imposed strict regulations on e-cigarette marketing and targeting of children. American companies, on the other hand, remain free to market their products as they please. Some websites post a pro-forma question asking visitors whether they are older than 21, but all it takes is a click on the “yes” button, and a world of flavor purchases awaits.
Some promote their products as candies, like Tootsie Rolls. By calling their products “vaping juices,” along with colorful packaging, they do everything they can to stimulate young people’s curiosity. Once they try e-cigarettes, it’s the highly addictive nicotine that keeps kids coming back. In Britain, e-cigarette liquid pods are limited to half the nicotine content of many of their American counterparts.
It has long been proven that young people’s brains are more susceptible to addiction. The e-cigarette industry will continue to take advantage of young people until nicotine limits are imposed and enforced.
If the goal of companies like Juul truly is to help smokers quit, then the goal should be not just to end tobacco smoking but to curb the nicotine addiction that drives it. Tightly regulating nicotine as the dangerous, addictive drug that it is would be an important first step toward weaning smokers off nicotine and halting the targeting of children.