(LOUISVILLE, Ky - DECEMBER 18, 2018) The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is alerting the public regarding the danger of soaring rates of vaping, juuling, and other e-cigarette use among youth nationwide and in Kentucky. The use of these products is unsafe for kids, teens and young adults. E-cigarette emissions are not harmless water vapor: That is a dangerous misperception. Most of these products contain high levels of nicotine, which is extremely addictive and harms adolescent and young adult brain development, including impulse control and learning ability. Even products advertised as nicotine-free have been found to contain nicotine. These products also can contain other harmful substances, including ultrafine particles that can be inhaled in the lungs, flavorings such as diacetyl, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals.
E-cigarettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from larger tank devices and pipes to the Juul brand, which mimics a USB flash drive and has about 75 percent of the market share. A Juul e-cigarette is small enough to be easily hidden in a closed fist, and the aerosol emits no odor; thus, Juuls are easy for youth to conceal and use virtually right under adults' noses.
E-cigarettes also come in literally thousands of flavors, such as candy and fruit, many of them clearly targeted to youth. This is nicotine insidiously disguised as dessert, and is a major factor in spurring youth use.
Two recent national studies have revealed an unprecedented upsurge in the use of any substance by American youth. Vaping has become a norm among youth within just the last several months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) labeled the increase an epidemic; the agency announced in November that high school student e-cigarette use had jumped 78 percent and middle schooler use had jumped 48 percent in just the last year. More than 3.6 million youth, including one in five high school youth and one in 20 middle school kids smoked e-cigarettes in 2018. This week, a National Institute on Drug Abuse study of 45,000 eighth, 10th and 12th graders nationwide found a similar, dramatic increase at each of these grade levels. Vaping among high schoolers nearly doubled from 11 percent in 2017 to 20.9 percent in 2018, the study found. In addition, 7.5 percent of 12th graders used e-cigarettes to vape marijuana.
Kentucky youth appear to be mirroring these national trends. The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky contracted with Kentucky Youth Advocates to conduct focus group discussions with 9th through 12th grade students in five counties across Kentucky (Clay, Jefferson, McCracken, Monroe, and Campbell). representing both rural and urban areas and a variety of income levels. Each of the discussions revealed that Kentucky teen use of e-cigarettes is rampant, a pervasive belief among these youth that they are safe and "cool," and a perception that adults are largely unaware.
In addition to the immediate health dangers, youth who smoke e-cigarettes are more likely to become smokers of traditional, combustible cigarettes, putting them at risk for cancer, heart disease, and a host of other tobacco-related illnesses and death. Smoking remains the number one preventable cause of death in the United States. The rate of tobacco use among youth, which has been declining for decades, is suddenly trending back upward. These teens are potentially subjecting themselves to a lifetime struggle with nicotine addiction.
Kentucky cannot afford to erase the hard-won progress we've made in reducing tobacco use. We remain the cancer capital of the nation, with more cases, more deaths, and a higher proportion of tobacco-related cancer than any other state in the country. We urge parents, teachers, medical professionals, health advocates, policymakers and youth leaders to share this information widely among their networks of colleagues and friends, warn the youth with whom they work about the dangers of e-cigarette use, and advocate for laws and ordinances that prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in schools and workplaces.
For additional information, see the presentations from the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow's December 10th conference on this topic here, visit the CDC's website, and see the Surgeon General's Dec. 18 Advisory.
About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Funded by an endowment, the mission of the nonpartisan Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity. Since the Foundation opened its doors in 2001, it has invested nearly $28 million in health policy research, advocacy, and demonstration project grants across the Commonwealth. Follow the Foundation on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and visit our website at www.healthy-ky.org.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth