The Kids Are Not Alright
By Tamer Abouras
In the late 1990s and early 2000s when I was growing up, the anti-smoking campaigns were at their apex. Beyond merely demonizing (deservedly) the harmful habit of smoking, legislation was being passed at the state and federal levels to effectively put out cigarettes at indoor locations all across the United States.
And for us kids, if the proliferation of anti-smoking advertisements weren’t enough, the D.A.R.E. program we all went through in elementary and/or middle school certainly did its part to appreciably discourage our generation from engaging in the practice.
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These days, smoking has declined and quitting seems to have become a rite of passage for adults once they reach middle age — if not sooner. Nonetheless, whether it’s through chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping or hookahs, it seems as though a particular subset of the population — especially teens and college students — continue to at least try out tobacco products at some point or another. And according to new data from the CDC, the campaign against smoking may have stalled out over the past five years, at least with regard to this demographic.
Per the CDC’s press release, data from the 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey released this week revealed that, “Overall tobacco use by middle and high school students has not changed since 2011.”
The data continued, showing that, “ … 4.7 million middle and high school students were current users (at least once in the past 30 days) of a tobacco product in 2015 and more than 2.3 million of those students were current users of two or more tobacco products. 3 million middle and high school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2015, up from 2.46 million in 2014. 16% of high school and 5.3% of middle school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2015, making e-cigarettes the most commonly used tobacco product among youth for the second consecutive year. During 2011 through 2015, e-cigarette use rose from 1.5% to 16% among high school students and from 0.6% to 5.3% among middle school students.”
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CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH attributed much of the lack of progress to the rise of e-cigarettes, before reasserting that all nicotine is harmful, regardless of how it’s contained. “E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, and use continues to climb,” he said. “No form of youth tobacco use is safe. Nicotine is an addictive drug and use during adolescence may cause lasting harm to brain development.”
While the FDA continues to push for “proper regulation and responsible marketing” of tobacco products, it seems as though the abdication of the anti-smoking PSA campaigns could be a partially contributing factor. Whatever it takes to ultimately make this habit irrelevant, one thing appears to be clear: the kids are not alright.