How can we protect teens from vaping?

Published on in Children's View

Louis Bell, MD, Chief of the Division of General Pediatrics, shares the latest in medical thinking on an important topic: e-cigarettes.

In the spring 2017 issue of this magazine, I focused this column on the rise of e-cigarette use among adolescents. For that piece, I spoke with CHOP attending physician, PolicyLab faculty member and tobacco-control expert Brian Jenssen, MD, MSHP, who bemoaned vaping’s growing popularity in light of its unknown health risks. But he seemed hopeful that the Food and Drug Administration would step in and effectively regulate the vaping industry to protect our youth.

Fast-forward to today: Despite near-daily headlines showing the clear health harms of these products, e-cigarette use among teens has risen even higher, to epidemic levels. According to recent data, more than one in four high school students reports current e-cigarette use, and many middle school students are also using these devices. Millions of teens are addicted to vaping.

What has led to this dramatic rise in use? Tobacco companies have taken over the vaping industry and are using the same marketing tactics they once used to sell cigarettes, says Dr. Jenssen. Originally marketed to help adults quit smoking traditional cigarettes (with little evidence to support that claim), e-cigarettes come in fruity flavors and are intentionally marketed to appeal to teens.

It is urgent to take action now to prevent the same life-threatening impact cigarettes have had, says Dr. Jenssen. He and his team at PolicyLab are working to:

  • Educate patients and families about the risks of e-cigarettes to prevent use
  • Empower pediatricians to screen patients for vaping/tobacco use
  • Identify proven methods to help teens quit vaping
  • Advocate for stronger policies that protect teens from the vaping industry’s tactics

I asked Dr. Jenssen what concerned parents and caretakers can do to protect teens. His advice:

  • Talk to teenagers. If the teen is vaping, talk with them about the health concerns, and connect them to resources to help them quit, including your pediatrician.
  • Get involved at the school level. Advocate for tobacco- and e-cigarette-free campuses.
  • Push for policies that protect youth. Call your representatives at the state, local or federal level. Key actions include restricting advertising to teens, banning all flavors, increasing the purchase age for all tobacco products to 21, and incorporating e-cigarettes into current tobacco-free laws. 

Working together, we can reduce all forms of tobacco use among the youth in our communities.