Q & A with Tobacco Free Florida: The bottom line is e-cigarettes are unsafe for kids

Andy Ramkumar, who works at Gotham Vape in Queens, vapes at the store while watching a hearing on the vaping debate on September 17, 2019 in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

State health officials and lawmakers are concerned with the upsurge in youth vaping, due to a nationwide outbreak of reported deaths and lung injuries associated with its use.

Data from the Florida Youth Tobacco Survey shows that about 27 percent of middle and high school students have used an electronic vapor product in 2018.

And nationwide, youth vaping has reached epidemic levels, with over 5 million teens currently using e-cigarettes, according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Health officials are pinpointing flavored e-cigarettes as a cause for concern – used to attract young people with varieties such as cotton candy, mint and wintergreen – resulting in state lawmakers pushing for a ban on flavored e-cigs.

Following two reported deaths in Florida connected to e-cigarette use, also known as vaping, state and national health departments are continuing to investigate associated cases of lung injuries and diseases.

From Jan. 1, 2019. to Dec. 7, Florida has reported 103 cases of lung injuries linked to vaping, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The Florida Phoenix talked to Laura Corbin, the health department’s Bureau Chief of Tobacco Free Florida, about the youth vaping crisis and how flavored vaping products are impacting teens. Corbin provided written responses.

Can you provide a comment on the youth vaping epidemic specifically in Florida? Any data on it in addition to the one reported death in FL? (There’s now a second death.)

The bottom line is that e-cigarettes are unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults.  E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. Teens may be more sensitive to nicotine and feel dependent on nicotine sooner compared to adults.  Using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.  The brain continues to develop until about age 25.

Since 2015, the current Florida high school e-cigarette use rate has increased by 62%. The current high school e-cigarette rate is 25.6%, which is a slight increase from 24.8% in 2018, but a slowing of the trend.

The Florida Department of Health is working closely with our federal partners, CDC and the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), on investigating lung injury associated with e-cigarette products. For data on lung injury associated with e-cigarette use in Florida, please visit FLHealthCharts.com.

Are flavored e-cigarettes considered tobacco products?

The FDA defines e-cigarettes as “noncombustible tobacco products.” The FDA is responsible for the federal regulation of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, which it classifies as a tobacco product. For information on FDA’s regulatory plans and efforts, you can visit their website, fda.gov.

Are flavored e-cigarettes a major problem among the youth? How so?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flavors are a top reason youth report using e-cigarettes.  The majority of youth e-cigarette users report using flavored varieties and most youth e-cigarette users first start using e-cigarettes with a flavored variety.

Scientists are still learning about the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use and the flavorings found in the liquids.

Vaping retailers have said the use of e-cigs help smokers quit using cigarettes. Any comments on this?

E-cigarettes are not currently approved by the FDA as a quit smoking aid. While they have the potential to benefit some people and harm others, scientists still have a lot to learn about whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking. No matter what, smokers who have switched to e-cigarettes should not go back to smoking combustible cigarettes.

Tobacco Free Florida encourages smokers looking to quit to talk to their healthcare provider and explore the seven FDA-approved cessation devices. Tobacco Free Florida also offers free and proven-effective resources to help Floridians quit nicotine, regardless of insurance status.

Any tools that your program offers for the youth?

Tobacco Free Florida has free resources to help Floridians over the age of 11 stay nicotine free. These resources include free tools and services that are proven-effective and available to minors. In addition, Tobacco Free Florida provides FDA-approved nicotine patches, gum and lozenges, if medically appropriate to adults 18 years of age or older. You can learn more at tobaccofreeflorida.com.

Florida youth can get involved locally by joining Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) – Florida’s statewide youth advocacy organization. Floridians can also follow THE FACTS NOW – Tobacco Free Florida’s youth counter-marketing campaign – on social media.