Underage vaping is an epidemic, according to US Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Yesterday, Adams released an advisory calling for more to be done to curb the use of nicotine vaping devices among the nation's youth.
"I, Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, VADM Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and associated health risks by immediately addressing the epidemic of youth e-cigarette use," Jerome wrote. "The recent surge in e-cigarette use among youth, which has been fueled by new types of e-cigarettes that have recently entered the market, is a cause for great concern. We must take action now to protect the health of our nation’s young people."
As teen vaping has increased in huge numbers over the past decade, the potential health concerns associated with that are also increasing. The chief concern among them is that while vaping and e-cigarettes may be marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco products, the kids using the devices are still inhaling an addictive substance — sometimes in even higher doses then they would get from regular cigarettes. On top of being highly addictive, nicotine intake can "harm the developing brain," the Surgeon General noted. Additionally, the aerosol common in e-cigarettes may expose users to "heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and ultra-fine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs."
An advisory like this doesn't have any policy-making power, but it does have a big influence on shaping how physicians and government bodies deal with particular issues.
"They are a tool used by the Surgeon General to call attention to an issue and to provide guidance to the public," Micah Berman - a professor of Health Services Management and Policy at The Ohio State University - told The Verge. "They are only issued rarely, when immediate action is called for—which is what makes them so noteworthy."
And medical professionals in the US are already on side with Adams, says the CDC.
"Our nation's doctor sees this as a problem," says Brian King at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health, who worked on today's advisory. "We ultimately hope [this] will galvanize folks at multiple levels, particularly at the state and local level."
While Adams has called out the vaping phenomenon in its entirety, he also singled out one player in the game that he believes to be particularly liable: Juul. The advisory cites Juul's compact size and concealability as well as their enticing flavors as prime reason for their current market dominance. However, the biggest concern with Juul is the fact that their highly concentrated nicotine solution is less harsh than smoking, which makes people more prone to overindulge as consumers won't notice any ill effects like a sore throat.
"That's particularly problematic when we’re talking about young people," King says.
Kathleen Hoke - a professor specializing in Public Health Law at the University of Maryland - says its these kinds of concerns that warrant branding the youth vaping issue as an epidemic, a term that should not be thrown around lightly.
"It's broad, vast in its impacts, and of deep concern about its lasting effects," she said.
In a statement Juul spokesperson Victoria Davis said "our intent was never to have youth use Juul products" and that they are actively working to "preventing youth access" to vaporizers.