Why are teens vaping? And why aren’t we stopping them? | Editorial
One in four Florida high school students are using e-cigarettes. That’s a problem.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Sept. 13, 2019|Updated Sept. 27, 2019

Vaping and e-cigarettes once had a reputation as healthier alternatives to cigarettes, but the overwhelming evidence indicates that rosy sales pitch was inaccurate. As a rising number of e-cigarette users are hospitalized with severe respiratory illnesses, the consequences of vaping are clear and potentially fatal. The Trump administration took a prudent step by proposing a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. In Florida, State Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, has filed legislation to raise the legal age to 21 to purchase vaping and tobacco products. Getting e-cigarettes off the market for teenagers and young adults is the right move, and a broader public education campaign is needed to spread the word about the health risks of vaping.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called vaping an epidemic among young people—and it’s an epidemic with real health consequences. At least 380 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease have been reported in 36 states, including Florida, all from patients who said they used e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Six deaths have also occurred in six different states. Warnings of the dangers of vaping have spread to social media, with one Facebook post shared 500,000 times from a mother whose 18-year-old was hospitalized in the intensive care unit after vaping.

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What makes e-cigarettes so dangerous is that their ingredients can be hard to pin down. They typically contain nicotine, but they also can include lead and cancer-causing chemicals, said the CDC. The e-cigarette cartridges intended for single use are sometimes refilled with substances unknown to the user, according to the CDC, and oils that are used to deliver the drugs can harm patients’ lungs, reported The New York Times.

Another problem with vaping is it disproportionately appeals to teenagers. A remarkable one in four Florida high school students are using e-cigarettes, says Tobacco Free Florida, but only about 4 percent of Florida adults are vaping, according to the CDC. Teens under the age of 18 are not legally allowed to possess any nicotine products or nicotine-dispensing devices in Florida yet they are still able to get their hands on e-cigarettes, based on the rising numbers. That’s worrisome and indicates that something in the regulation of e-cigarettes and the public information about the risks of using them is not working.

One in four Florida high school students are vaping. Only 4% of Florida adults vape.

Tobacco Free Florida and Center for Disease Control
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Tampa Bay has experienced the effects of vaping. A community survey showed that about 41 percent of Pinellas County high school students self-reported vaping at one point. The number of tobacco incidents in Hillsborough County Schools has increased from 178 in the 2016-2017 school year to nearly four times that last school year. To combat the increasing phenomenon, Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins and Sheriff Chad Chronister created a PSA video urging students not to vape. The district also sent a message to families warning them of the possible consequences of vaping at school. These are both steps in the right direction and show that school districts have had to step up to discourage students from using e-cigarettes.

Florida and the nation need to better reckon with the problem that vaping marketing has created by suggesting to teenagers that e-cigarettes are a healthy substitute to cigarettes. They are not. In 2014, Florida made the sale of e-cigarettes illegal to those under 18 years of age, but the numbers of teen e-cigarette users in Florida have risen since then. The question is what can we do to stop teenagers from using these dangerous and now life-threatening drugs? The answer must come in the form of stricter regulations, be it banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, raising the age to 21 or both.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.