By Jessica Reed, Prevention Specialist
Traditional tobacco use has decreased significantly over the past ten years among adolescents. However, youth use of e-cigarettes has doubled or tripled every year from 2011-2014, until it surpassed the usage of traditional cigarettes). The IYS shows a steady decrease in past 30-day use of cigarettes among 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students across the state of Illinois. In Kane County specifically, 98% of 10th grade students and 96% of 12th grade students reported being cigarette free in the past 30 days. Nevertheless, the number of seniors in Illinois who used e-cigarettes increased from 18.4% in 2016 to 26.7% in 2018.
E-cigarettes go by many names, such as vapes, vaping devices, e-cigs, or ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery devices). E-cigarettes come in many sizes and shapes. Since they first came on the market in the early 2000s, devices tend to fall into two categories: large-size tank devices and small rechargeable e-cigarettes. Typically, adolescents are attracted to the smaller, rechargeable e-cigarettes, especially the brand name Juul. These devices area easy to hide as they give off little smoke or smell and often are mistaken for a flash drive. According to the Truth Initiative, nearly 1 in 5 students between 12 and 17 years old have seen Juul used in school. Schools across the country have reported problems with students using e-cigarettes in the bathroom, in the hallway, and even sometimes in the classroom.
Why are adolescents attracted to these devices? While many factors can be involved in a teen’s decision to use e-cigarettes, three reasons are often cited as why they choose to start:
Students will say that everyone is doing it. Renz Prevention Specialists routinely hear this reason from middle school and high school students across the county. This may be due to some of the lack of advertising restrictions for e-cigarettes. When looking at the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey data for Kane County, 80% of 10th grade students and 72% of 12th grade students reported being e-cigarette free in the past 30 days. Not everyone is doing it, but teenagers have this perception through advertising and perhaps because of all the attention on e-cigarettes in the past few years.
Flavors, such as mint, fruit, or coffee, are the next highest reason for use. Juul recently pulled all its flavors except for Virginia Tobacco, Classic Tobacco, and Menthol due to the popularity of flavors in youth. Flavors are still available for other e-cigarette brands and can lead to the misconception that the flavors don’t contain nicotine and are safer. Flavors like bubble gum, mango, and crème brulee smell and taste good, leading to increased use.
Finally, another reason that has influenced many adolescents to start using e-cigarettes is the perception that it is less harmful than other forms of tobacco. When Kane County students were asked on the Illinois Youth Survey how much do you think people risk harming themselves if they use e-cigarettes or other vaping products, 37% of 8th grade students, 46% of 10th grade students, and 51% of 12th grade students reported no risk or slight risk. There are very few studies that explore the long-term effects of use e-cigarettes. However, it is now becoming more understood that the “smoke” released by e-cigarettes is actually an aerosol, not water vapor like it was originally thought. This can lead to higher risk of bronchitis and lung infections.
Education is key to preventing or stopping e-cigarette use. Learning about e-cigarettes and having conversations with teenagers is important. Setting clear boundaries and having multiple, short conversations with teens will help develop healthy relationships with them. Reminding them of some of the statistics shown in this article will help negate the misperception that everyone is doing it. To learn more, check out these resources:
Information on Quitting: