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Letter: Vaping is Undermining Decline of Youth Smoking

The recent decline of tobacco use among youth is being undermined by the exploding popularity of e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes, also known as “vaping” or “juuling”, are an electronic system that delivers high doses of nicotine in an aerosol that is inhaled. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that is especially harmful to youth and their brains, which are still developing. These nicotine products are often flavored, which make them appealing to young people. Research also shows that youth who start on e-cigarettes are actually more likely to move toward smoking tobacco cigarettes than their peers who do not vape. 

E-cigarette and tobacco use typically begins before the age of 18 with the peak years for trying tobacco products being sixth or seventh grade. Each year in Kentucky, 2,900 youth become daily smokers, and three in four teen smokers continue smoking into adulthood, even if they intended to quit after a few years.

The good news is that comprehensive tobacco-free policies on school campuses significantly influence students’ attitudes about the use of tobacco. Comprehensive policies prohibit the use of all tobacco products – including e-cigarettes– by staff, students and visitors on school property, and during school-sponsored field trips, at extracurricular events and other school related activities.

These policies on school campuses also affect youth behavior, reducing tobacco use among students. Schools with consistently enforced tobacco-free policies are more likely to have lower rates of student smoking than schools without tobacco-free policies. These policies also help create environments where being tobacco-free is the norm and peer pressure to use tobacco is reduced. It is clear that comprehensive tobacco-free policies for schools can support the health of young people throughout the Commonwealth. In Northern Kentucky, half of the sixteen public school districts have a 100% comprehensive tobacco-free policy that eliminates tobacco and e-cigarette use by students, staff and visitors, inside buildings and on all school property.  We can do better for our kids, by ensuring healthier environments and supporting healthier choices. They are our future.

Submitted by Dr. Lynne Saddler, District Director of Health, Northern Kentucky Health Department