It’s a strange paradox that, while today’s young people seem so much more enlightened than many of their elders in terms of technology, social progress and commonsense concern for the environment — no climate change denial for them — they also appear to have at least one Achilles’ heel: vaping.
The increased use of electronic cigarettes among youth, especially after several decades of declines in tobacco usage, threatens to become a crisis that mars their reputation — and, more importantly, their health.
An estimated 28% of high school students and 11% of middle school students said they’d used e-cigarettes within the past month, according to a new government report published last week in the online Journal of the American Medical Association.
That amounts to 5.3 million young users, compared with about 3.6 million last year.
This, despite federal laws that prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to people under 18 — and despite the strange and dreadful lung disease that has recently been associated with vaping.
“We are in the midst of an e-cigarette crisis, the aftermath of which we could be dealing with for decades,” Erika Sward, spokeswoman for the American Lung Association, said in response to the report.
Sixty-one cases of severe lung injury have been reported in North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported last week. More than a dozen cases nationwide, including one in Greensboro, have led to death.
Moses Cone Hospital reported the city’s first vaping-related fatality in September.
Symptoms are similar to pneumonia, and include shortness of breath, fever, cough and nausea or vomiting. All patients reported a history of using e-cigs or vaping products. THC-containing products may be an important component, but the research is still inconclusive.
Despite North Carolina’s rich heritage as a tobacco state — it’s a crop that brought prosperity to many in times past — the health issues related to smoking “are serious and costly issues for our state,” said state Rep. Donny Lambeth of Forsyth County, where tobacco’s roots run especially deep.
“It is important that we continue to inform our citizens of the risk and that we particularly make sure our youth are aware of those risks.”
Last week the N.C. legislature considered an amendment to a bill that would have increased the excise tax on e-cigs to the same rate as traditional cigarettes. Raising the cost of e-cigarettes, the thinking went, would discourage young people from using those products, and the revenue raised from the higher tax could go toward anti-smoking efforts.
Makes sense to us. The amendment made sense as well to bipartisan supporters in the Finance Committee. Even so, it was dropped before it could reach the House floor for fears that the extra expense would make it more difficult for adults to transition from traditional cigarettes to vaping, a safer — if not entirely safe — option that might help them quit smoking completely.
We realize and understand that conundrum, but our children’s health is a higher priority.
When one thinks about the concept of smoking in the abstract — purposely drawing polluted air into one’s lungs for pleasure — it seems absurd.
When one considers the risk to our children’s health, it seems almost criminal.
We urge our state legislature to return to the issue. We should do all we reasonably can to prevent our children from taking up vaping. It’s not worth the risk.