The next generation of tobacco products have changed. With fun flavors and sleek designs, today’s products are made to look appealing. Don’t be fooled—they’re full of nicotine and can be just as addictive. Tobacco has changed, parents.
It’s time for the way you talk about tobacco to change too.
Vapes come in many shapes and sizes. Some look like cigarettes while others can be mistaken for USB flash drives or pens. No matter what they look like all vapes and e-cigarettes heat a liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled. Don’t be deceived, this aerosol poses a health risk to teens. It can contain harmful chemicals and nicotine.
Teenagers aren’t done growing, and neither are their brains. Nicotine exposure at a young age can cause irreversible damage and pave the way for addiction to tobacco products and other harmful substances. Decades of research shows that nicotine is as addictive as heroin — and many teens don’t realize the tobacco products they are using contain this ingredient which can create an addiction within days of first use.
The prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until around age 25. That’s the area that controls personality, behavior, and decision making. The nicotine in every tobacco product is equally addictive and can cause immediate and long-term effects that include mood disorders, greater inability to focus, and lower impulse control. Exposure to nicotine has even been linked to bouts of depression and anxiety.
We’re not just blowing smoke. Studies show that teens who start with e-cigarettes are more likely to try regular cigarettes within one year. And they don’t just use other tobacco products, in Utah, 70% of teenagers who smoke cigarettes also report using alcohol.
Bright colors and tasty flavors make these products seem more like candy than addictive substances. More than 80% of teens who try tobacco products report using a flavored product first.
It can be hard for teenagers to understand how something so colorful can be so harmful. It might be just as hard for parents to see the danger. Clever designs and bright colors hide the dangers of these products and are just some of the ways Big Tobacco targets kids. Sleek e-cigarettes designed to look like USB flash drives have grown in popularity among teens because of their attractive and discreet designs.
Over the last 20 years there have been a variety of restrictions placed on tobacco companies limiting their ability to market traditional products to young people. Research shows that youth are affected twice as much as adults by tobacco advertising. Unfortunately, few restrictions have been placed on in-store advertisements, product placement, and price discounts for new products.
Utah law requires convenience and tobacco specialty stores to be 1,000 feet from school, parks, or public places. Despite the law, teens can be exposed to tobacco advertising every day when they walk or drive to school due to the prevalence of tobacco and vape shops. It is illegal to sell a tobacco product to anyone under the age of 21. Many teens access these products through social sources like friends and older family members.
We can’t let our teenagers be tricked by tobacco. That’s why we need to start a conversation—with our kids, other parents, and our community leaders. We can find ways to reduce access to these dangerous products. Together, we can make a difference. And together, we can build healthier communities.
Things have changed, parents. We can’t just tell our kids not to smoke anymore. Starting the conversation early is critical to pave the way to an addiction-free future. Research shows that the number-one reason kids choose not to use harmful substances like nicotine is parental disapproval. Talking candidly can pave the way to an addiction-free future. Consider these ideas:
If your teenager is already using tobacco products and looking to quit, there’s a way. Find tools, tips, or just someone to talk to at teen.smokefree.gov–a website created especially for teenagers who want to quit using tobacco products.
Ask for support. Take the next step and talk with other parents and community members about how tobacco products and marketing continue to change. Let your school administrators, parent-teacher groups, coaches, and other mentors know about the dangers of tobacco and addiction. Ensure schools are tobacco-free. And, if possible, consider a visit to your health care professional to help educate your teens about potential risks of tobacco use.
Reach out to your local elected leaders or government officials. Let them be an advocate for important tobacco regulations in your community, your county, and across Utah. Call them. Tweet them. Let them know you aren’t just concerned, but encourage them to take action to protect your children from the harmful effects of tobacco.