Our View: Teen e-cig use is skyrocketing

Something needs to be done about e-cigarettes much sooner than later. The trend of teens picking up vaping is getting out of hand.

Teen use of e-cigarettes more than doubled from 12.2 percent in 2016 to 26.7 percent in 2018, according to a survey released last week by Kentucky’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program, part of the state’s Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities.

This rapid growth comes at a time when Kentucky was finally bringing youth use of nicotine-laced products such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco under control: Over the same time period, the percentage of teens using smokeless tobacco or cigarettes dropped well into the single digits.

The survey found those who do smoke were smoking fewer cigarettes per day. It also found that teen usage of marijuana, prescription drugs, stimulant drugs such as speed and tranquilizer drugs such as Valium were all trending downward. The survey reported no such progress concerning cocaine, meth and heroin, but no clear upward trends, either.

Vaping is the one area in which teen use is clearly taking off. More than one in four Kentucky high-school seniors said they had used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days. About one in seven eighth-graders and one in 23 sixth-graders said they had, too.

Much more regulation and research is needed before we fully understand the health risks of vaping. But we already understand the extreme addictiveness of nicotine, and we know that e-cigarette use makes people more likely to try other drugs, as well. No matter what we discover about vaping down the road, we’re never going to want our kids doing it before they are adults.

Kids’ brains are growing and forming in ways that adults’ brains no longer are. Introducing brains to addiction at younger ages is a recipe for long-term disaster. The addiction will be harder to kick, will cost the person more money over their lifetime and it will put them at risk for health problems that can exponentially increase the costs and shorten their lives.

There was a helpful piece of legislation passed this year — House Bill 11 — that prohibits the use of “any tobacco product, alternative nicotine product or vapor product” at all public schools in Kentucky. This will help limit students’ exposure to vaping, hopefully preventing them from thinking of it as a normal thing they should try.

But we need to do more or we risk losing the health gains made in recent years from declining cigarette use. There are legislative options, such as banning flavored vapor products that are more enticing to teens. There are cultural options as well. You can talk to your kids about vaping and the financial and health costs that can come along with it. If you are an adult who uses e-cigarettes, whether you’re trying to quit or not, you can choose not to vape around children or in public spaces.

We must also be careful not to stigmatize or shun anyone who does vape, even as we discuss the problems associated with their habit. Shame should not and cannot be a part of the solution.