The use of tobacco products is hazardous to our oral and overall health, whether it takes the form of cigarettes, cigars, or smokeless tobacco. As a nation, we’ve discouraged smoking in a variety of ways, to the point where smoking cigarettes seems less “cool” than when many of us were teens. Even so, according to the American Lung Society, each year more than 480,000 people in the U.S. die from tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, making it the leading cause of preventable death (www.lung.org).
The demonstrably false notion that e-cigarette usage, or vaping, is a safer, less addictive, and, possibly more “cool” form of smoking than traditional cigarettes has lured our youth into bad habits, while undermining their health by damaging developing brains, lungs, and hearts. Chemicals found in e-cigarettes impair teeth and gums, creating, or exacerbating, oral health issues.
These products are packaged in fruit flavors with appealing names, masking the taste of nicotine and other harmful ingredients. Whether marketed to teenagers or not, the increased appeal is too obvious to dispute. This creates a public health perfect storm.
The governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire have taken different approaches in dealing with the dangers of widespread e-cigarette use among adolescents, as the short- and long-term implications of this health crisis cause national and state leaders to grapple for effective policies that will begin addressing the problem now.
On a more personal level, we can all communicate often, and consistently, that, along with all other tobacco products containing nicotine, e-cigarettes are addictive and dangerous. As we discourage our children and grandchildren from using them, we can: point out the oral and overall health dangers, tell them this is an expensive habit (both in money and lost health), and make sure they know that the best way to avoid an addiction is to never start. And let’s help them recognize that it’s okay to say “no” when offered an e-cigarette or vaping pen, and tell them we’ll be very proud of them when they do.
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