The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an advertising campaign Tuesday aimed to keep teenagers from smoking e-cigarettes, or “vaping.” The campaign includes online advertising, social media content and posters in school bathrooms to inform teenagers that smoking e-cigarettes is just as addictive as smoking real cigarettes and contains hazardous chemicals.
This campaign is an extension of the FDA’s 2014 tobacco prevention campaign, “The Real Cost.”
Kenneth Ward, director of the division of social and behavioral sciences at the University of Memphis School of Public Health, said the use of e-cigarettes among children and teens is now an epidemic, with nearly 11 million young people ages 12-17 using e-cigarettes or indicating they’re likely to do so in the future.
“E-cigarettes are not harmless,” Ward said. “There’s evidence they can cause lung damage in teens, and they can deliver large doses of nicotine, which is highly addictive.”
More than 2 million middle and high school students used electronic cigarettes last year, according to a June 2018 survey conducted by Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a weekly health report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ward said after using e-cigarettes, many teens will switch to smoking regular cigarettes, which he described as “deadly.”
“The FDA is flexing its muscle on the vaping industry,” Ward said. “This includes a new requirement that e-cigarette manufacturers have 60 days to demonstrate that they can prevent kids and teens from accessing e-cigarettes.”
Ward, who said he is encouraged by the FDA’s proactive response, also said he predicts the campaign will reduce demand for e-cigarettes by giving young people accurate information about how much damage e-cigarettes can do to their health.
“To be most effective, we also have to intervene on the ‘supply’ side,” Ward said. “The FDA’s pressuring of manufacturers and retailers to restrict teens’ access should help greatly.”
Ana Navas-Acien, an environmental epidemiologist at Columbia University who studies the long-term health effects of tobacco and e-cigarette use, said e-cigarettes contain metals that are inhaled in the form of vapor.
“Addiction to nicotine is very powerful, and this is a major concern,” Navas-Acien said.
Navas-Acien said she thinks stronger regulations of e-cigarette products are needed.
“We need to take this issue seriously and make sure that … teenagers are not engaging in the use of e-cigarette products,” Navas-Acien said.
Dan Arnold, director of the Regional Alcohol Drug Awareness Resource Center at Boise State University, said smoking was extremely popular for years. Arnold said most of the side effects of smoking are no longer socially acceptable, which includes the smell of the smoke, the worries of secondhand smoke, the well-known health conflicts and the thoughts assumed of smokers.
“The problem with young people is they have to decide what is socially acceptable and what is not,” Arnold said. “Whereas electronic forms of smoking are bringing it back, saying they don’t have the health or culture side effects of traditional cigarettes. These advertisers are just ingenious with the ways they promote these electronic cigarettes. They say that you can still have the good effects of smoking without the side effects.”
Arnold said the FDA should step in and that it’s likely they are planning how to work towards putting restrictions on forms of all e-cigarettes, though he said it is difficult to know what action the FDA is going to take.
“I would say this is equal to an epidemic, and I know that far more kids are contributing to this,” Arnold said. “Kids could use electronic forms of cigarettes in class and get away with it. There are serious health risks that come from electronic cigarettes that go unreported and fly under the radar. People need to understand that this is not a safer alternative. Not putting anything in your lungs is a safer alternative.”
Jacob Rice also contributed to this story.
A student takes a break from classes by smoking an e-cigarette. The FDA recently launched an ad campaign to attempt to decrease teen e-cigarette use.