The U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory Tuesday urging new local restrictions including taxes and indoor vaping bans to combat youth e-cigarette use, a pivotal development given the office’s global stature on tobacco enforcement.
The move by Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams comes a day after the National Institute for Drug Abuse issued new data showing nearly 21 percent of high school seniors say they vaped a nicotine product within the past 30 days, up from 11 percent a year ago. The increase, part of the annual Monitoring the Future survey on drug use among adolescents, was the largest for any substance use in the survey’s 43-year history.
“There’s no more credible or influential voice on nicotine and tobacco than that of the U.S. Surgeon General,” says Dr. Josh Sharfstein, a former Maryland health secretary who is now a public health professor and vice dean at Johns Hopkins University. “Today’s advisory is an alert to the nation that e-cigarettes are leading millions of youth into nicotine addiction and placing them at unacceptable risk of harm.”
More than 2 million middle school, high school and college teens use these battery-powered devices to heat liquid-based nicotine into an inhalable vapor. More than one in three high school seniors and nearly one in three sophomores say they vaped at least once in the past year, the new report found. Up to 30 percent vaped for 20 or more days in the previous 30 days, a “clear sign of addiction,” says Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Nicotine is “very and uniquely harmful” to the developing brain, Adams said in an interview. It can impair learning and memory for people under 25, “prime the brain” for addiction to other substances and increase the risk they will turn to combustible tobacco just as smoking is at a record low. He cites research showing vaping makes youth two to eight times more likely to use cigarettes in the future.
Worse yet, it’s turning children who were the least likely to start smoking into potential smokers, Myers says.
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