Once again, the tobacco industry proves to be nimble. A rash of mysterious lung illnesses associated with e-cigarettes has prompted the government to regulate their use. So tobacco companies have introduced new smokeless (but just as addictive) products to the market. What’s worse, these new products seem designed for kids: They’re cheap, flavored and can be used undetected.
Here’s what you need to know about a slew of new nicotine products:
Vaping First, What Next?
An e-cigarette is a tobacco-free mixture of nicotine and other chemicals heated up into a vapor that’s inhaled. Smoking an e-cigarette is called vaping because the steam vapor replaces the smoke of regular cigarettes. Originally billed as a smoking cessation tool, e-cigarettes – such as JUUL, the most common one – have rapidly become popular among teens.
The surgeon general has declared underage e-cigarette use an epidemic that’s hooking a new generation on nicotine. “In Indiana, there has been a 387% increase in e-cigarette use by youth from 2012 to 2018,” says Irene Boone Phillips, program coordinator for Lake County Community Tobacco Prevention & Cessation Coalition. “That translates into 35,000 more kids who have started vaping here in the last couple of years.”
Even though e-cigarettes don’t have as many chemicals as tobacco ones, they still contain harmful substances. Recently, nearly 200 vaping-related cases of severe lung illness have been reported and are being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – a move that’s fueling action to ban flavored e-cigarettes entirely.
“When you have an unknown combination of chemicals mixed with metals and heated, the potential for harm is unlimited,” says Phillips. “Because we don’t know what’s in e-cigarettes, we don’t know the full extent of the danger.”
Nicotine Pouches and Other Smoke-Free Products
Now that a crackdown on e-cigarettes seems imminent, tobacco companies have released new, unregulated products to the market. These include chewable candies and pouches that contain nicotine powder and come in flavors like mint, coffee, cinnamon, berry and cream. Sounds so innocent, right?
While they are marketed as a safer alternative to combustible tobacco, Phillips argues that these new products are still dangerous. “If you don’t know what exactly you’re putting into your body, how could that be safe? We should all be concerned about that.”
Dissolvable products may also be especially attractive to underage users, says Phillips. These candies and powders don’t emit smoke, vapor or anything that can be detected. You just put them in your mouth, and no one knows it’s there.
Nicotine Health Affects
Nicotine is highly addictive. People who become dependent on e-cigarettes and other nicotine products experience withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Difficulty focusing
- Sleep problems
Nicotine also makes your heart beat faster and narrows arteries, which increases blood pressure – a major risk factor for heart disease and heart attacks.
Nicotine use is especially dangerous for kids’ developing brains. It changes brain chemistry and can have long-lasting effects on their ability to reason.
Talking to Teens About Vaping and Nicotine Use
Talk early and often.
“It’s never too soon to talk to children about vaping and substance abuse,” says Phillips.
An easy way to start a conversation is to point out vaping or vaping ads and ask your kids if they’ve seen people do that at school or parties.
If you find out your child or teen is using nicotine products, avoid judgment. It’s not their fault, says Laura Arent, coordinator with Franciscan Health’s cessation programs. “Children aren’t trying to get addicted. These products are marketed towards kids. Of course they want to try Cap’n Crunch®, mango and gummy bear flavors. Nicotine is an addictive drug, and these products are designed to hook people.”
Help your child break the addiction. Ask your teen’s doctor to recommend a smoking or tobacco cessation program, or learn more about the tobacco cessation programs at Franciscan Health.