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Teen Vaping Declared a National Epidemic

Date: 04/11/19

Buckeye Health Plan: Improving the health of the community through awareness and education

Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in Ohio, with cigarettes causing over 20,000 deaths per year.Still, teen tobacco use, including vaping, is significantly on the rise. In fact, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams recently declared e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic.With the CDC reporting 38.3 percent more high schoolers using tobacco products in 2018 compared with the previous year, now is a critical time for action.3

Many experts point to e-cigarettes, specifically those shaped like USB flash drives, pens or other everyday items, as the main reason for the increase. They are easy to conceal, often used in bathrooms and even classrooms. Plus, some e-cigarette brands market flavors that appeal to youth including menthol, alcohol, candy, fruit, chocolate and other sweets.

“More students are vaping because many believe it’s safer than traditional tobacco products. Plus, they are easier to disguise,” says Dr. Ron Suprenant, Buckeye Health Plan medical director and addiction specialist. “You can disguise the odor, you don’t need a lighter and you can easily hide them. The biggest problem is that many students don’t realize the serious health side effects.”

While long-term studies continue, many health risks have been identified:

  • E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm the developing brain, impacting learning, memory and attention in youth.4
  • E-cigarette emissions can contain harmful chemicals, including nicotine and volatile organic compounds, placing children exposed to first and secondhand smoke at higher risk because of their developing lungs.3
  • The vast majority of smokers start before age 18 in middle and high school.4 Using nicotine in adolescence may increase risk for future addiction to other drugs, including serving as a gateway to traditional cigarettes.4

“Plus, e-cigarette smokers exhale nicotine and other dangerous chemicals into the air,” says Dr. Suprenant.  ”People around them are exposed to these addictive and dangerous substances.  It is not safe to use e-cigarettes around children. E-cigarettes should be treated just like traditional tobacco products when it comes to secondhand smoke.”

Tobacco education and prevention efforts targeting youth are critical in curbing the vaping epidemic in Ohio.

“Education is the number one thing we can do to prevent tobacco use,” says Alisha Hopkins, CPN, with The Breathing Association, a Columbus-based organization offering individual and group tobacco cessation counseling. “We now have teenagers who are addicted to nicotine before they have their driver's license. Many teens don’t know that vaping is habit forming, and many parents don’t know much about it or know what to look for. We need to spread the word. Everyone needs to understand the health dangers of vaping, including addiction.”

There are steps parents and caregivers can take too, including:

  • Talk to your children about the health dangers of e-cigarettes, including addiction.
  • Establish a no-smoking zone in your home and car.
  • Be a role model by living tobacco-free.
  • Ask your pediatrician to talk with your children about the dangers.
  • Reinforce school anti-tobacco programs at home.

“Being a positive role model by living tobacco-free has a strong influence in curbing children’s tobacco use. But, it can be hard for those who are currently using tobacco,” says Dr. Suprenant. “Buckeye is committed to helping our members quit tobacco use by making treatment available through counseling and tobacco cessation medications and aids. I recommend anyone looking to quit tobacco to start by talking with their physician.”

For more information on this topic, please view Buckeye's Teen Vaping Facts (PDF) infographic. 


1 Tobacco Data and Statistics, The Ohio Department of Health, retrieved February 2019

2Teen Vaping Soared in 2018, NPR, December 2018

3Tobacco Use by Teens is Rising, Centers for Disease Control, February 2019

4 E-cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General Cdc-pdf,  US Department of Health and Human Services, July 2018