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On World ‘No Tobacco Day,’ a renewed push to curb e-cigarette use by NC youth

Credit: iStock

by Clayton Henkel, NC Newsline
May 30, 2024

Tricia Howard never expected her son would take up vaping. As the lead nurse for Durham Public Schools, she knew firsthand the addictive nature of e-cigarettes and the harms nicotine can pose for adolescents.

But when Howard found a vape cartridge in her son’s room, she confronted him and heard a story that’s all too familiar with teen smokers.

“I was shocked, disappointed. What he shared was what all the kids that I speak to who vape share, that he was feeling stressed. He was feeling overwhelmed with the issues of being a senior and his life laying before him,” Howard shared during a tele-town hall hosted by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Tricia Howard, MSN, MHA, PMHNP-BC, Lead Nurse, Durham Public Schools (Screengrab NCDHHS Town Hall)

Howard said she knew his stress about getting into college was real, and she needed to hear him out before launching into a lecture about vaping.

“Take the time to gather your thoughts, try to approach them when you’re calm so you can leave without judgment. This will keep the conversation going,” said Howard.

Wednesday’s online conversation comes as the World Health Organization marks May 31st as World No Tobacco Day highlighting how the tobacco industry designs products that help addict the world’s youth.

While traditional cigarette use by teenagers has declined in recent years, health professionals note that e-cigarettes are attracting and hooking a younger audience.

More than two million U.S. students use e-cigarettes according to a 2023 survey. One in four of these students vape every day.

The World Health Organization estimates globally 37 million youth (aged 13–15) use tobacco.

A vape pen uses a battery to heat up a special liquid into an aerosol that the user then inhales.

“The e-cigarette aerosol is not just harmless water vapor,” explained Ray Riordan with the Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch at NCDHHS. “We know that nearly all e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Of course, many of these contain high concentrations of nicotine as well. So, it makes it easier for folks to get addicted.”

Riordan said colorful packaging also offers an appeal to a younger audience. While some pens may resemble cigarettes or pipes, they may also look like USB flash drives, highlighter markers, or even toys. Sample of a cartoon shaped e-cigarette used to entice youth. (Photo:

Last summer, the Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to more than a dozen online retailers that were selling e-cigarette pens in the shape of the cartoon characters “SpongeBob” and Nintendo’s “Mario.”

But Riordan worries what really hooks young smokers is the taste.

“Flavors like fruit flavors, dessert flavors, menthol, mint, those sorts of things.”

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids notes that nearly 90% of youth e-cigarette users gravitate to products that are candy-flavored.

And the better the taste, the longer a teen may spend smoking.

But even with that sweetened allure, Howard said the problem is that the vape pens still contain nicotine, which is highly addictive.

“Using nicotine when you’re young can harm the parts of the brain that controls attention, learning, mood, and impulse control,” Howard cautioned.

Nicotine addiction can increase feelings of anxiety in youth.

“Middle and high school students most often say they vape because they feel anxious, stressed, or depressed. Nicotine addiction or withdrawal can make these feelings worse, which can lead to youth vaping to relieve these symptoms and can worsen the addiction,” said Howard.

The numbers seem to support that.

More than 1 in 3 youth e-cigarette users reported using e-cigarettes at least 20 of the last 30 days, according to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Riordan said it’s important that parents help children find their “why” for quitting, while understanding how the habit-forming vice may interfere with their health and their own personal goals.

Programs designed to help North Carolina youth quit e-cigarettes include Live Vape Free and Quit the Hit, a five-week program that uses Instagram to encourage 13–17-year-olds to stop smoking.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein was the first attorney general in the nation to hold an e-cigarette maker accountable for marketing its product to youth. Under the agreement, the state will receive $47.8 million from Juul that the Department of Health and Human Services will use to prevent e-cigarette addiction and fund e-cigarette research.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.