By The Herald Editorial Board
Big Tobacco, with its legion of lobbyists, and evil geniuses, is almost always a step ahead of regulators and health officials. It wasn’t until May of this year that the FDA finally finalized a rule extending its authority to all nicotine products — including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah and pipe tobacco, among others. The lack of such authority is why we saw ads for nicotine vaping products on TV, and such products sold legally to teens and kids.
When cigarette smoking rates among teens hit historic lows in the past decade, flavored products (from cigars to vaping) filled the void. When the FDA announced the oversight change, it cited research by the agency and the CDC showing current e-cigarette use among high school students has skyrocketed from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015 (an over 900 percent increase) and hookah use has risen significantly. In 2015, 3 million middle and high school students were current e-cigarette users, and data showed high school boys smoked cigars at about the same rate as cigarettes.
A separate study by the FDA and the National Institutes of Health shows that in 2013-2014, nearly 80 percent of current youth tobacco users reported using a flavored tobacco product in the past 30 days – with the availability of appealing flavors consistently cited as a reason for use, the FDA reported.
And now, a new, disturbing study shows just how successfully Big Tobacco is cultivating more nicotine addicts, and how belated the FDA was to take action to oversee the new products. The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that teenagers with a regular vaping habit aren’t just more likely to take up smoking — they have higher odds of developing a heavy cigarette habit, Reuters reported.
Vaping devices have been advertised as way to help smokers quit, but the lead author of the study says his findings call that cessation claim into question.
“Our most recent study is the first to show that teenagers who vape not only experiment with cigarettes, but are also more likely to become regular smokers,” said Adam Leventhal, director of the University of Southern California’s Emotion and Addiction Laboratory in Los Angeles.
Rather than keeping kids and teens from smoking, the flavored nicotine products can act as bridge to smoking, said Dr. Brian Primack, a University of Pittsburgh researcher who wasn’t involved in the study.
“… young people who may not have otherwise ended up smoking started with palatable, flavored e-cigarettes — and then after they became accustomed to e-cigarette use, many transitioned to traditional cigarette smoking,” Primack told Reuters. Which is exactly what is happening.
The country’s successful efforts to reduce cigarette smoking among teenagers and kids must be redoubled, and include information about the highly addictive nature of nicotine, regardless of its delivery system.