Vaping among teens skyrockets; experts warn of dangers

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – New reports by the Centers for Disease Control show the use of cigarettes among teenagers is dropping to historic lows. Between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of middle school smokers was cut in half, dropping from 4.3 percent to 2.3 percent. Smoking among high school students has also dropped from 15.8 percent in 2011 to 9.3 percent in 2015.

The bad news is vaping among teens has skyrocketed. Experts say kids are being tricked into thinking vaping isn’t bad for them with how new it is and all the fun, fruity flavors out there.

Dave Belknap has two kids in high school and like most parents, he worries about the bad things they could get into.

“In high school, there are 18-year-olds who have it and can have it available to other kids. My kids have told me they’ve seen that,” said Belknap.

He’s talking about vaping, a big concern of his.

“You hear vaping commercials and they brag about the flavors that they have. Some of them are Trix, Lucky Charms, breakfast cereals which I think are for children and it makes me believe that those are being promoted towards children,” he said.

Belknap’s concerns are real. On a national level, the CDC found e-cigarette use among middle and high school students has tripled from 2013 to 2014. High school usage went from 660,000 students in 2013 to 2 million the following year, while middle school usage went from 120,000 in 2013 to 450,000 the next year.

“Obviously having two teenagers, I feel it’s important that they understand that vaping still has a drug in it – an addictive drug,” said Belknap.

Initially, e-cigarettes were advertised to adults as a way to stop smoking and some people have been successful in doing that. However, in most cases, it’s simply replacing the cigarette.

“At this point in time, we still don’t know exactly what’s in those products,” said Kerri Thompson.

Thompson heads up the tobacco use prevention department at the Knox County Health Department. Despite the start of a new regulation process in August of last year, she says there are still a lot of unknowns about the e-liquid, outside of the high concentration of nicotine and the use of diacetyl.

“Diacetyl was a flavoring that was used in popcorn making facilities and it’s a damaging lung disease. It was a flavoring that in one study done in 2015 it was found to be in 75 percent of the e-liquids,” she said.

Thompson also warns that youth nicotine addiction can easily lead to other problems.

“Once they get that addiction to say, e-cigarettes, they’re more susceptible to other addictions even, because it can change the developing brain at that age,” said Thompson.

This is just another reason why Belknap told his kids early to stay away from it.

“As soon as possible, as soon as kids are in school. Because if they’re in high school, my thought is vaping is probably available in middle school too. So as soon as possible,” he said.

Worried about the rapid growth in e-cig and vaping use by teens, 48 U.S. states have banned the sale of vaping supplies to minors. The other two states made it illegal to share vaping products with minors. At this time, Tennessee only prohibits selling vaping supplies to minors under 18.

If you’d like to quit but need some help, next week is Tennessee Quit Week, where the Knox County Health Department, Smoke Free Knoxville and the Community Health Council join together to promote quitting. For more information, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

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