Silsby: Youth nicotine use prevention goes beyond education

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Just recently the FDA sent a letter to the manufacturer of Puff Bar warning them to pull their disposable vapes from the U.S. market because they had not received permission to sell them in this country. The company says it has complied. But Puff Bar is hardly alone as evidenced by the FDA also sending similar letters to several other manufacturers.

Unlike the popular Juul reusable vaping devices, Puff Bars and others evade the FDA's ban on flavored e-cigarettes, by beingdisposable devices.

While the FDA action is good, it's not enough. We've seen proof that when one product is banned, kids will find another. If it's not Juul, it's Puff Bar. If not Puff Bar, it's Sourin. If not Sourin, it's Smok. And the list goes on. More are in development as I write.

Kids are enticed by the flavors, from all sorts of fruity ones to candy-flavored ones. At last count, I believe there were still more than 15,000 flavors of e-cigarettes available.

Herein lies the danger: they may be attractive because of the flavors but they contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and impacts learning, attention and memory. One Juul pod, for example, delivers as much nicotine as a full pack of 20 cigarettes.

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As if that's not frightening enough, a new study out of Stanford University finds that teens and young adults who vape, are five to seven times more likely to be infected with COVID-19, than those who don't.

But even that reality won't stop the marketers of these products, because getting kids hooked is key for these companies, who need new, young users to keep their profits high.

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Sadly, it's working. According to the latest Vermont Youth Risk Behavior study, more than 25% of high schoolers are regular e-cigarette users. And according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we know that more than 80% of teens who have ever used tobacco say it all started with a flavored product.

The good news is, at the beginning of the pandemic calls to the state's 802Quit line increased 40%. We should capitalize on that momentum but it will take a comprehensive approach; one that includes programmatic efforts like youth groups, systemic-wide education (health and cessation classes), access to counseling and, continued support for the state's 802Quit program, public health policies and ordinances at the state and local level, plus smoke-free zones, and retailer cooperation.

Retailers can take positive steps in reducing youth initiation of vaping and using tobacco products, by complying with current laws, including having employees attend training, getting certified by the VT Division of Liquor Control prior to selling tobacco, and updating their certification every two years. The 802Quit signs should be posted front and center. Stores such as Hannaford, Target and CVS have done the right thing by ending sales of all tobacco products. It helps adults too by eliminating the physiological trigger that happens when someone sees the brand they normally use, while at the checkout counter. If retailers are going to sell tobacco and e-cigarettes, they should keep tobacco products out of sight so they're not staring kids in the face, appealing to their sense of curiosity and then feeding their addiction.

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And public health policies work. I recently had a young man tell me that due to the restrictions banning flavored Juul vapes in Vermont and at the federal level, he had quit and been able to stay nicotine-free.

802Quits.org provides extensive and free cessation options for persons 13+ and older and customized resources for Medicaid Members, LQBTQ, American Indians and pregnant Vermonters. This is Quitting provides text messaging to teens and young adults trying to quit vaping and to caring adults of a young person who vapes. Text DITCHJUUL to 88709 or QUIT to (202) 899-7550 respectively.

Tobacco and e-cigarette companies will stop at nothing to grow their market. They spend millions every year promoting their products in Vermont. I was recently made aware of an insidious ad that encouraged kids to buy Puff Bar disposables as an "escape from parental texts!" With kids getting hooked on these products daily, we need to use everything in our power to protect them. Both New York and Massachusetts have eliminated the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes. It's the kind of public health policy that just makes sense.

Victoria Silsby is a Prevention Specialist at The Collaborative which is funded by the state and promotes the development of a healthy, involved community supporting substance free youth in a caring environment.


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