When electronic cigarettes first hit the market, they were devised as an alternative for adult smokers.
But ironically, we’ve seen vaping products give rise to a new generation of nicotine addicts – just when it looked like young people might be shunning the bad habits of previous generations.
Teenage e-cigarette users are more likely to start smoking conventional cigarettes, even if they wouldn’t have otherwise, and according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky led the nation in cancer deaths in 2017.
That’s why this year’s passage of House Bill 11, which requires that all schools go completely tobacco-free by July 2020, is a step in the right direction toward fixing the issue here in Kentucky.
Tobacco-free also means banning alternative nicotine and vapor products, which is why so many school districts have been updating their policies to comply with the law lately. Recently, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that at least 154 school districts in Kentucky had gone tobacco-free, translating to 89 percent of schools total. There are 172 school districts in Kentucky.
The ban on vapor products also extends to school employees, volunteers and other individuals attending or participating in “any school-related student trip or student activity,” according to the legislation.
The foundation’s support for House Bill 11 was laudable because, as its CEO and President Ben Chandler told the Daily News, the foundation hoped to shape behavior norms for young people – ultimately changing their long-term behavior.
In June, the 2018 Kentucky Incentives for Prevention State and Regional report found that e-cigarettes had surpassed alcohol as the most widely used substance among young people in Kentucky.
Among 10th graders in southcentral Kentucky, use is as high as 29.2 percent.
Statewide, that percentage was 23.2 percent, putting southcentral Kentucky at the high end in e-cigarette use among young people.
Often, students see no real health risk in vaping.
The KIP survey notes that “across all grades, levels of perceived risk for vaping are the lowest of all substances addressed on the KIP survey.”
This explosion in e-cigarette use among young people didn’t come out of nowhere: Young people were targeted through sophisticated social media campaigns.
According to Vox, an advertising analysis by Stanford University researchers found that Juul, a market leader, hired social media influencers to promote its products.
The company recruited people with large Instagram followings, using them to spread catchy hashtags including #switchtojuul and #vaporized. Content often featured images of young people Juuling or doing tricks or jokes with their Juul.
This problem wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight. Changing norms takes time, and making our schools completely tobacco-free is a great place to start.