Over the past few years, e-cigarettes and other vaping products have taken center stage in the world of tobacco.
In 2014 I began my first year at UNC-Wilmington (UNCW), just as e-cigarette products exploded in popularity. Walking between my dorm, car, and classrooms, it was inevitable to see at least one billowing cloud from someone vaping. It was especially noticeable when classes let out and the sidewalks were busy, when suddenly you were hit in the face with grape-scented vapor. “It’s much healthier than regular cigarettes, it’s just water vapor,” students would say.
North Carolina has seen a steady decline in conventional cigarette use in youth. However, with new products and decreased funding for youth tobacco prevention programs, the rate of youth tobacco use is now on the rise. It’s not just water vapor in these products, but nicotine and other dangerous chemicals.
The 2015 North Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey (NC YTS) reported between 2011 and 2015 e-cigarette use among high schoolers increased 888%, jumping from 1.7% to 16.8%. The 2017 NC YTS will soon be released and is expected to show an even higher increase in use, due to the growing popularity in vaping and a new product, the Juul. With a compact design and high percentage of nicotine per puff, Juul is taking the e-cigarette industry by storm. What I saw walking around campus isn’t just at UNCW. The statistics show that statewide, students in high school and other universities are likely to encounter the same atmosphere – lots of vaping products.
It is time we get back on track with youth tobacco prevention programming. This is not only a problem at UNCW, but also a problem of tobacco control in the state. We need to educate and inform young adults that vaping products are not just water vapor, and instead have risks. To do so, state-level funding for educating young people is an essential element.