Home City E-cigarette “epidemic” reaches Athens High School

E-cigarette “epidemic” reaches Athens High School

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The FDA declared e-cigarettes an "epidemic" among youth. Photo by Max Ramsey

The FDA is targeting e-cigarette manufacturers in an effort to curb use by minors.

The Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it is targeting e-cigarette vendors for their part in the rise in number of students using e-cigarette products, namely JUULs.

The FDA took major steps, including sending warning letters and fines to over 1,300 retailers for selling e-cigarettes to minors. According to officials, this action was the largest coordinated enforcement effort in the FDA’s history.

Athens High School Principal David Hanning is familiar with this trend. Hanning said he has seen a shift from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes at the school.

“I think (underage e-cigarette use) is a serious problem, which is compounded by the fact that these products come in different forms and are difficult to detect,” Hanning said. “Children who want these products seem to be able to get them easily.”

Any form of tobacco use is prohibited on Athens City School District grounds, but e-cigarettes are easier to hide and don’t have one distinct smell — like a cigarette would — so it is much harder to detect when a student is vaping, Hanning said.

The high school has taken efforts to curb use of e-cigarettes. If a student is found with an e-cigarette on school grounds, they are required to attend Friday night school. Additionally, AHS attempted to reach out to health care providers in the area, seeking to create or make use of current tobacco/smoking cessation programs, according to Hanning, although the school has yet to receive an answer.

The FDA gave major e-cigarette manufacturers — including JUUL Labs —  60 days to create a plan to address the problem of underage abuse before the FDA would explore a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the FDA, went so far as to classify vaping as an “epidemic” among young people.

E-cigarettes have generally become the tobacco product of choice for minors in recent years, with just over 2 million middle school, high school, and college students using e-cigarettes, according to the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey. While overall teen tobacco use has gone down since 2011, e-cigarette use has gone up.

Accessibility seems to be one of the FDA’s concerns as well. Major manufacturers including JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen, Blu, and Logic make up 97 percent of the market for flavored e-cigarettes. Most of these companies’ products are sold behind the counter at popular gas stations or drug stores like Walgreens or Exxon, so it is not challenging for someone who is underage to gain access.

The FDA also rolled out plans this week to expand their anti-tobacco campaign, “The Real Cost.” The public health campaign will now include online advertisements, social media posts, and printed posters about the harmful effects of vaping.


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