Consider this: Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Most smokers are hooked before age 19.
With Joe Camel retired and smoking among youth declining, manufacturers are developing and marketing alternative tobacco products loaded with toxins and appeal.
“It’s not just cigarettes anymore,” says Laura de la Rambelje, a public health consultant in the Tobacco Control Program run by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Many people have no idea what these products are. They mistakenly think they’re a safe alternative to cigarettes or other aids used to stop smoking like the patch.
Actually, some tobacco alternatives contain many of the same dangerous chemicals as cigarettes, including nicotine, De la Rambelje says. In fact, she says teens are smoking more e-cigarettes than the traditional kind, a trend first noted in the University of Michigan’s December 2014 national study “Monitoring the Future.”
“There are many students who would never, ever pick up a regular cigarette,” De la Rambelje says, “But they’ll try an e-cigarette because they think it’s just water vapor and flavorings, and it’s not. E-cigarettes emit an aerosol laced with nicotine, flavors and cancer-causing chemicals and substances like formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, nickel and cadmium.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies e-cigarettes as a tobacco product. Last month, the FDA banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Under the new regulations due to take effect in August 2016, the FDA banned e-cigarette sales in person and online to minors. They prohibit the sale of tobacco products in vending machines and distribution of free samples in places where minors may be present. Photo identification will also be required for tobacco purchases.
In addition to the rules on sales, manufacturers will have to submit products for approval – including providing a list of ingredients and manufacturing processes. Packages will carry a warning that reads, “WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”
But you can provide the greatest intervention. If you know teenagers, talk to them about making smart decisions about smoking. Here’s questions you can ask to get the conversation started:
Have you seen or heard of people using e-cigs? If you want to find out how they feel about smoking and if they’ve been exposed to e-cigarettes, listen respectfully – even if you disagree.
What do you know about the effects of tobacco use? You may be surprised to learn that new, and even occasional, tobacco users quickly show signs of heart, lung and gum damage. Compared to adults, young people’s bodies also are more sensitive to nicotine, which means they can become addicted much faster, sometimes after smoking one cigarette, according to De la Rambelje. Plus, tobacco hinders athletic performance and can trigger asthma attacks.
How common do you think smoking is? Young people who spend time with smokers – adults and peers –
are more apt to consider tobacco use normal, De la Rambelje says. So debunk that myth for them. In Michigan, only about 10 percent of high school students and 20 percent of adults smoke. Plus, studies show teens prefer dating nonsmokers.
Regardless of what you see in the media, did you know that the truth is about 1,300 Americans die from smoking every day? From the Marlboro Man to James Dean, smoking has long been associated with mavericks and rebels – and who doesn’t want to look cool? But people also hate “being played.” So pull the curtain back. Remind them that new customers are snared by ads and promotions designed to appeal to specific groups: young people, girls, African-Americans, Latinos and low-income earners.
Did you know?
In 2015, Hawaii became the first state to raise its legal age to buy tobacco to 21. When Hawaii changed its law, about 80 communities – including New York City – took similar action. Tobacco-Free Michigan, the statewide tobacco prevention coalition and its partners, are working to raise awareness of the public health benefits associated with raising the minimum age from 18 to 21.
HAP can help you quit
HAP has tools to help you or your family member quit smoking – for good. Check out hap.org to learn about benefits that help you quit smoking, secondhand smoke’s negative effects and other helpful resources.