Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and most adults who use tobacco products regularly start before they turn 18. Nicotine found in tobacco products is highly addictive, and research shows that exposure to nicotine at an early age affects key brain receptors and makes young people more susceptible to lifetime nicotine dependence.
Most youth who currently vape use disposable e-cigarettes, which are “bigger, stronger, and cheaper” than tobacco products of the past. With flavors like “tropical rainbow blast” and “watermelon ice,” the brightly colored devices are designed to look like toys or fashionable accessories that appeal specifically to youth. Vape devices are frequently marketed—and sold—to youth online through social media platforms like TikTok.
There is some good news: according to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 1.97 million middle and high school students reported current e-cigarette (vape) use—down from 2.51 million in 2022. Locally, 22% of MAU and 9% of MAUMS students report currently using vape products (YRBS).
So what can we do to help our young people stay safe and healthy?
“Just say no” doesn’t work—but we can provide young people with facts to make informed choices, equip those who use substances with resources and support to reduce their use or quit, and listen to the lived experiences and needs of youth.
For example, among Vermont high school students who vaped during the past 30 days, 30% used because they were feeling anxious or stressed (YRBS). As caring adults, we can support teens in developing healthier coping strategies and building resilience, educate them about the risks between nicotine use and mental health, and work to address the underlying causes of mental health challenges for young people in our community.
What about the link between tobacco and cannabis?
Tobacco and cannabis use patterns are evolving, with many of today’s teens directly combining the two products. Vaping cannabis (heating the dried plant and using distillates or an “e-liquid” solution with a battery powered e-cigarette to inhale a vapor) has been increasing. (Truth Initiative)
Cannabis has become increasingly normalized through legalization, and the perception of harm related to cannabis use is decreasing among youth. Remember: research has consistently found that cannabis can have lasting and potentially dangerous impacts on the teen brain.
Quit Resources for Teens:
My Life My Quit is a free and confidential way to quit smoking or vaping. Learn more about vaping, tobacco, and nicotine, and text “Start My Quit” to 36072 to chat with a Coach.
Truth Initiative’s This is Qutting program is a free and anonymous text messaging program designed to help young people quit vaping. Teens and young adults can join for free by texting DITCHVAPE to 88709.
Quit Resources for Adults:
802Quits provides free customized online and phone support, as well as quit tools for vape, cigarette, and nicotine users 13 years and older.