'Big Tobacco' targets kids with devices designed to be hidden in plain sight: Audrey Garcia

The Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s (PdNHF) Smoke-Free initiative is dedicated to supporting efforts to promote smoking cessation and smoke-free spaces. Our team is on the forefront of clean air initiatives and ordinances in El Paso (2001), San Elizario (2018), and Horizon (2021). We are committed to promoting local tobacco cessation through research-based media campaigns that support the statewide Quitline (915-534-QUIT). Along with a network of smoke-free partners, the Tobacco Control Network, we supported efforts to institute tobacco-free policies at UTEP, EPCC and in all HOME communities.

Vaping exposed users to around 2,000 chemicals, according to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Vaping exposed users to around 2,000 chemicals, according to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Hidden in plain sight

As our outreach continues to build, we are keenly aware of how the tobacco industry landscape is pivoting to new nicotine delivery products; e-cigarettes or, as they are commonly known, “vapes.” These devices vaporize nicotine and other products for inhalation. “Big Tobacco” companies are marketing these devices with the intent of addicting a new generation. Flavoring options are consistently aligned with snack foods, candy, and fruit, making the devices appealing to a younger target. In addition, vaping devices are being designed and marketed to look like everyday items, school supplies and other electronics making them easily concealable and often, hidden in plain sight.

A 2022 National Youth Survey conducted by the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that one in 10, or more than 2.5 million U.S. middle and high school students have used an e-cigarette within the last 30 days.  The data also highlighted disposable devices are most commonly utilized, with almost 85% using flavored e-cigarettes.

Parents need to be aware

"The Paso del Norte Health Foundation is committed to maintaining a laser-focus on educating parents and school administrators of the ways the tobacco industry is evolving, and the new ways they are targeting youth with vapes,” said Tracy J. Yellen, CEO of PdNHF. “Through strong partnerships with Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK), Tobacco Control Network and EFO Media, we continue to make excellent progress raising awareness of this trending issue. However, as the industry continues to push forward, we know we must push too. Parents in the region need to be aware and prepared with the knowledge they need to structure discussions with their children at home.”

After successfully piloting a “Youth Vaping” presentation to parents and school administrators, the PdNHF and AFHK developed the next phase of the parent education campaign with “Let’s Talk Youth Vaping” facilitator training. This program is designed to build a local team who will help educate parents, grandparents, school administrators and any individuals who interface with our youth. After training, these facilitators are “hitting the streets,” armed with materials, presentations, knowledge-checking exercises, and local statistical data to help spread the facts about youth vaping in the borderland. AFHK is formally connected to seven El Paso and one Doña Ana school district, impacting more than 178,000 youth. This one-of-a-kind approach is helping our partners at AFHK present research-based facts and statistics that in turn assist school districts to develop strategies and policies which mitigate usage on school campuses.

We are focused on targeting adults and education professionals for this campaign because let’s face it, kids know more about vaping than many adults do. In large part, we are playing a big game of catch-up. Research shows clearly that nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain. These devices deliver nicotine in a concentrated form, which equates to higher amounts of nicotine with every puff and could result in an addition.

Parents concerned about their youth vaping can visit vapefreepdn.org to find the tools they need to start a conversation and learn how to spot the vape.

Audrey Garcia is program officer for Paso del Norte Health Foundation.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: 'Big Tobacco' targets kids with devices designed to be hidden in plain sight: Audrey Garcia