On Monday, the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” survey dropped some record-breaking statistics on the prevalence of teen vaping. Today, the US Surgeon general decided to take things into his own hands and issued the office’s general advisory on youth e-cigarette use, a bold public health statement that underscores the impact that this survey has had on the highest medical office in the country.
The “Nation’s doctor” doesn’t issue national warnings like this every day, but the results of the “Monitoring the Future” survey seem to have hit home in a big way. On Monday, that survey noted that the percentage of 12th graders who vape nicotine products doubled in just one year — the biggest increase in survey history for any substance. In response, Surgeon General Jerome Adams stood before reporters today in Washington, D.C., literally held up a JUUL, and called the rise “historic and unprecedented.” He also used the word “epidemic,” echoing the FDA.
“I am officially declaring e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic in the United States,” said Adams. “I don’t want there to be any misconceptions about this. I don’t use that word, ‘epidemic’ — which means a sudden increase in infected numbers — I do not use that word lightly.”
Adam’s emphasis that vaping is an epidemic is based on how quickly it has taken off among teens, which the Monitoring the Future survey underscores. But as he explained the negative health effects of vaping, he mostly focused on the use of nicotine products in vapes. He was careful to say that vaping could be an “off-ramp” for adult cigarette smokers (vaporizers, unlike cigarettes don’t actually burn whatever you put in them, avoiding toxicants released during that process), but he made it clear that nicotine could have detrimental effects on the developing teenage brain.
“We already have enough science to tell us that youth use of e-cigarettes is unsafe,” he said. “We know that nicotine exposure during adolescence can uniquely harm the developing adolescent brain, impacting learning, memory and attention.”
Only briefly did Adams actually address the other very important fact about vaping: Not all teens vape nicotine products. He quickly mentioned that some teens vape marijuana and offered a quick point on other hazards of e-cigarettes outside of nicotine exposure:
“We know that the notion that e-cigarette aerosol is harmless water vapor — something my 14-year-old son thought was true — is a myth. Though e-cigs generally contain fewer toxicants than traditional tobacco products, they can expose users to harmful chemicals in addition to nicotine,” he said.
Adams’ statement was generally less about outlining the health risks of teen vaping and more about making a massive public statement intended to change public perception around vaping. He referenced the landmark 1964 Surgeon General Report On Smoking and Health, which signaled the beginning of a widespread public health effort to change the public opinion of smoking and lauded continued efforts to dissuade teens from smoking cigarettes.
Today, Adams did that same thing for e-cigarettes, and pledged to use his “bullypulpit to protect children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and e-cigarette use”.