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Youth smoking survey shows e-cigarettes a growing concern among middle and high school students

Nery Zarate

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published their latestNational Youth Tobacco Survey this month showing an overall decline in tobacco use among young people - with vaping still the most popular. However the survey found an increase in middle school-age kids using e-cigarettes and vaping products. Jim Carroll is the former Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, he broke down the results of that study for Ozarks at Large's Daniel Caruth.

The following is an edited transcript of that interview.

Jim Carroll: What we're really seeing is these disposable vapes that are coming into our country and staggering numbers made in China marketed to our kids is increasing in its popularity among middle schoolers. This is should be a terrifying statistic for everyone. It's a wake up call for lawmakers. And it's really something that parents need to talk about with their kids.

Daniel Caruth: can you break down just a little bit about those the products that we're looking at these vapes these e cigarettes, you know, how are they being marketed to youth and to kids? And what makes them maybe different than traditional tobacco products?

JC: so first off the, you know, the vaping device itself is a great product for adults who want to stop smoking or at least have an alternative to a cigarette. There's nothing wrong with them, they serve a valuable purpose for an adult. But when the top flavors are blue cotton candy and rainbow flavored candy - those are not going after adults that's going after our children. When the outside of the container or the packaging has cartoon characters. They're marketing it to our children. And now the latest trend with these illegal, disposable flavored vapes is they're being disguised as school supplies. They look like a yellow highlighter or something else that you know a kid should have in their backpack from school. They're doing this intentionally the same Chinese drug cartels that are going after you know, our with fentanyl with the other drugs that are hitting our country are now moving towards this end, the DEA is reporting that you know, some of these illegal vapes have contained fentanyl itself. That's a tragedy. It really is. And, you know, I was just working with the Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, you know, they just announced the purchase of almost 6000 kits of naloxone for the state of Arkansas. That's because for a record number of teenagers are dying from fentanyl. Now we're seeing middle school use of illegal vapes that are in cotton candy flavors that are being might even contain more fentanyl, this has to end this is should be a priority, you know, at the federal, state and local level. And I congratulate the people of Arkansas and your attorney general Griffin for making sure that naloxone is more widely available. Now let's get these off store shelves, let's make sure that, you know the ability to save lives is by not even allowing this product on the store shelves.

DC: So how are a lot of these products getting onto store shelves, getting in the hands of teenagers? How are the companies and product manufacturers getting around some of that, I guess some of the legal aspects of getting these into the hands of kids.

JC: Yes, sadly, what we're seeing are some stories who just don't care, all they care about is making a dollar. So they don't ask for the ID or they don't really enforce the law. The other thing that we're seeing, you know, is maybe an older brother or an older sibling, not understanding the dangers, and buying it, you know, and then giving it to a younger sibling, or, you know, what we also know that was happening or people you know, adults that are buying it. And then you know, making a profit and selling it to kids just like they're, you know, they're selling, you know, Percocet, you know, looking at pills that actually contain fentanyl to children. They're now selling, you know, a yellow highlighter, you know, that's easy to hide from a parent, you know, that's being sold, you know, in blue, cotton candy and gummy bear flavors. Overall cigarette use is down 80% Over the past decade among adults, what we're seeing disposable flavored vapes by middle schoolers going up.

DC: And I think a lot of us maybe remember, in the 90s and 2000s, the anti smoking campaigns, which were pretty effective in cessation. So why why is vaping becoming so much more popular, why is this type of tobacco use sort of surging?

JC: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the reasons that we're seeing, you know, this surging is the way that it's marketed. You know, it's not being marketed to adults is being marketed to kids. It's relatively cheap. You know, it tastes good. You know, it's cotton candy, it's gummy bear and what kids don't understand this the danger this does not have the marketing on it, you know, on the side of a pack of cigarettes, there's all sorts of warnings on this there is no marking there's nothing that a child or even an adult because look at and realize that they're going down a path to at the very least, an addiction to nicotine At the very most, at least according to the DEA that some of these might contain fentanyl, we're talking about something that could cause their death. Illegal drugs are the number one cause of death for 18 to 45 year olds, it's the fastest rising cause of death for teenagers. And I really do need the federal government to step up here and get rid, you know, candy flavored dessert flavored bakes marketed to our children, they need to be removed off the store shelves. And so the great work that's happening in Arkansas can really be amplified by getting these products off the shelves. And

DC: So what are the health concerns of vaping that the CDC is looking at that maybe are different from other traditional types of tobacco use and smoking?

JC: The problem is that these, you know, illegal disposable vapes, there's no quality control, they're at the very best, you know, they're supposed to contain, you know, nicotine, but what we're seeing also are, because they're unregulated or dangerous chemicals that are in there, you know, we're seeing products, you know, that people are consuming through the vape, that should not be in there that are a health hazard, you know, some of these dangerous chemicals, you know, at the very least, are in there. And so, you know, the vaping hats off, as I said, is a great product, it's great for adults, who are trying to quit smoking, or at least use something other than a cigarette. But when they're illegal, when we don't have the quality control, what we need to do is make sure you know that they're not available for sale. And especially for kids, we know that tobacco is one of them is a drug, it is it's something that is addictive. And so, you know, what we need to do is not let this be exposed to our kids, you know, if adults want to do it, you know, I'm more concerned about the kids.

DC: And so what is one thing that needs to happen to address this problem, what's maybe one big policy change that could take effect right now to address this?

JC: Yeah, what could happen right now is for the Food and Drug Administration that regulates this, the FDA could help end this, they can empower federal law enforcement to seize these at the border. You know, right now, the FDA has issued warning letters, and you know, they've talked about what's called an import alert and things like that, but they're not seizing it, they're not taking it off the store shelves, you know, we're not, you know, cracking down and prosecuting the people that are sending this year illegally. We have, I would argue enough laws on the books, what we need to see is enforcement. What we need to see is an uproar from parents, that these are being sold on store shelves, and we have to do is really educate parents that it could even look like a yellow highlighter. And so use the holiday, talk to your kids, talk to your lawmakers, and really make sure that this illegal product these flavor disposable vapes from China are not in our community.

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Daniel Caruth is KUAF's Morning Edition host and reporter for Ozarks at Large<i>.</i>
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