Forum tackles smoking and vaping

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Kate Lannan, Coordinator for the Tobacco Free Initiative at the World Health Organization, says to see through the smoke and mirrors, children must be educated on the harmful effects of nicotine.

With tobacco companies targeting young people with the popularity of e-cigarettes, a community forum was put on by the Non-Communicable Disease Consortium Tobacco Control Action Team to arm the island’s youth with the facts.

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From introducing an array of delicious flavors to their discreet packaging and disguises, manufacturers and sellers of electronic cigarettes, or E-cigarettes, are seemingly targeting young people.

In efforts to educate Guam on the topic of emerging tobacco products in the market, the first-ever tobacco forum on the island was held on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at the Westin Hotel.

Dr. Jeffrey Drope, scientific vice president for the American Cancer Society, noted an alarmingly high percentage of users among Guam’s youth.

“We know that prevalence is very high here. We know that high school prevalence is above 25 percent and we know that middle school prevalence is above 20 percent. So one in five middle schoolers is vaping,” the doctor said.

E-cigarettes are sold by the tobacco industry as a healthier alternative to smoking and often disguised as harmless objects that mimic pens, USB drives and fidget spinners.

Kate Lannan, Coordinator for the Tobacco Free Initiative at the World Health Organization, says to see through the smoke and mirrors, children must be educated on the harmful effects of nicotine.

“We have to speak their language and we can’t simply be the older generation wagging our finger at them, saying don’t do it. We have to explain to them the problems. Many of them don’t know these products can contain nicotine and nicotine is addictive and that they contain a lot of other chemicals that can harm them over time,” Lannan said.

She added: “Nicotine is very bad for the adolescent brain because it causes mood disorders, depression, and impulsiveness issues. Also, nicotine rewires the adolescent brain for addiction so not only do they become more addicted to nicotine or want to use more nicotine products like e-cigarettes or regular cigarettes, but they are actually more susceptible to becoming more addicted to alcohol and other drugs.”

Since these products are so new to the market, especially in Guam, Lannan said they are highly unregulated, leaving gaps in policies and procedures.

“These products aren’t taxed. They’re not properly labeled, there are no proper warnings about the nicotine addiction possibilities, and there are no requirements in terms of ingredients on the labeling … these are just to name a few,” Lannan added.

Earlier this month, a multi-state outbreak of severe respiratory disease cases was reported by the Centers for Disease Control where the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, is being investigated as the common link.

Dr. Drape says it’s a bit of mystery with what links these cases, but we shouldn’t rule out the use of vaping.

“We now have more than 500 cases with severe respiratory disease where people are not only getting very sick and ending up on ventilators in hospitals, but we’ve had eight or nine people die from these cigarette diseases in the last month or two. So it’s a little bit of a mystery,” the doctor said.

For more information on the dangers of e-cigarettes, visit the American Cancer Society website at cancer.org.

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