As a physician and a middle school principal, we share a common concern about the growing popularity of flavored vape products among Oregon's youth.
Gov. Kate Brown's leadership in calling for a six-month ban of flavored vape products, if allowed by the courts to take effect, would help protect Oregon's children while health experts investigate the ongoing outbreak of vaping-related illnesses around the country.
The U.S. surgeon general has issued a warning about e-cigarettes: youth use of vaping products is an epidemic.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, while the number of Oregon eighth graders smoking cigarettes between 2017 and 2019 stayed flat, the number who used e-cigarettes doubled. For 11th graders, use of e-cigarettes jumped from 13% to 23% in the same time period. According to the surgeon general, middle and high school student e-cigarette usage jumped 900% between 2011 and 2015.
We've seen this before: just like the tobacco industry in the 1950s, the vaping industry is addicting our children while they are young, creating a new generation of lifelong e-cigarette consumers.
We are seeing the impacts of this youth epidemic right here in Oregon.
In Oregon's schools, educators, unfortunately, have seen more and more students who would never think to smoke but take up vaping because they do not think it could do them harm. With kid-friendly flavors and creative packaging, the vaping products confiscated in schools today seem made to appeal to students.
E-cigarettes are small enough now to be disguised as USB drives and slipped into backpacks, and with some popular flavor pods containing as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, we are seeing students as young as 12 getting hooked on the sweet flavors of nicotine addiction.
In Oregon's urgent care clinics and exam rooms, doctors are seeing adolescent patients brought in for a cough, with what their parents thought was a cold or pneumonia, who later admitted to vaping.
College-age patients who vape regularly with presentations of a persistent cough also are unfortunately more common. Clinics are now on high alert across the country for signs of vaping-related illness in younger patients.
According to the CDC, 80% of patients reported with vaping-related lung injuries are younger than 35, with the youngest only 13 years old. The youngest patient to die in the United States was, sadly, only 17.
We have heard many theories from the public about which vaping products are dangerous and which are safe. Allow us to clear up any misconceptions: we do not know if any vaping product is safe.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not tightly regulate vaping products. We do not know what compounds our children are vaporizing into their lungs. The best way to make sure Oregon children are not subjected to lifelong health risks, lung injuries and death is to make sure they never start vaping.
Some have questioned why Oregon's ban, along with those of Washington, Utah and other states, targets flavored products. To that we would ask: How many customers over the age of 21 are buying bubble gum-flavored vape pens? Or cotton candy?
A ban is the first step toward protecting Oregon's youth from the dangers of vaping. While the ban has garnered the most public attention so far, other policies Brown has proposed are equally as important over the long term: consumer warnings, product labeling and a public-education campaign about how harmful vaping can be.
Oregon's health and education professionals stand united in this: Vaping is a youth epidemic, and there is no time left to wait for the FDA to do its job. By taking flavored vaping products off store shelves, this ban would take e-cigarettes out of the hands of Oregon's kids, and would keep more young people safely in school classrooms and out of urgent care clinics, emergency rooms and intensive care units.
Dr. Kevin Ewanchyna is president of the Oregon Medical Association, with 21 years practicing as a family physician in Corvallis. Cherie Kinnersley is a middle school principal in Portland.
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