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Health Experts Urge Early Conversations With Teens To Mitigate E-Cigarette Use

Nam Y. Huh
A man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago on April 23, 2014.

From e-cigarettes to vape pens, electronic vapor devices are growing in popularity among Pittsburgh-area teenagers. 

The 2017 Allegheny County Youth Survey indicated that over the two previous years, nicotine use through e-cigarettes increased for high school students, with nearly one-third of 10th and 12th graders reporting use.

Area schools have included e-cigarette use in district drug and alcohol policies, categorizing them as paraphernalia and controlled substances. Shaler High School’s drug code was updated in 2015 to specifically mention “bottles of nicotine or vape pen oil” alongside all other prohibited drugs; Pittsburgh Public Schools lists vaping as a level two offense, which could lead to an out-of-school suspension; Moon Township specifically mentions the brands juuls, e-hookahs, cloud 2.0 and Micro G. in its policy.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Pediatrician Dr. Allyson Larkin says she’s seen an increase in her clinic of teens smoking using the devices.

“It’s not healthy for kids to do this and can have really consequential problems to the lungs, end up causing subsequent addiction later,” she said. “And can harm adolescent brain development.”

Electronic smoking pens can appear more appealing to teens, Larkin said, because they sometimes come in different flavors. But research hasn’t caught up to the vaping industry and it’s not always clear what’s inside the chemicals being heated up to produce the vape smoke.

Plus, teens who vape are at higher risk of switching to traditional cigarettes, which anti-smoking campaigns highlight in their advertisements aimed at teens.

“If we can keep the discussions with adolescents in particular and potentially stop the behavior early on, I think we can make good effort to intervene,” Larkin said.

The trend follows a national one. The federal Food and Drug Administration recently said high school-aged students used e-cigarettes at “epidemic proportions.” It issued fines and warning letters to e-cigarette manufacturers, asking the companies to stop marketing to teens and submit remediation strategies.