The California Department of Public Health launched a “Flavors Hook Kids” campaign Tuesday to warn parents and adults about their children’s exposure to flavored tobacco products.
The campaign warns parents and concerned adults about the increasing availability of the products targeted toward teens. It also highlights how easy it is for kids to purchase flavored tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes.
Loraine Stern, a pediatrician with Valencia Pediatric Associates, said she often hears her patients talking about how their peers all smoke e-cigarettes.
“It’s common,” she said. “And if you want (e-cigarettes) to appeal to children, flavor it.”
Stern said she is unsure how teens are purchasing flavored tobacco, which is often more expensive than regular cigarettes.
The dangers though are just as potent, if not more, than cigarettes, she said.
“Depending on how much the cartridge heats the flavoring, they can release aldehydes, which are harmful to the lungs,” she said. “If they are vaping nicotine along with it, they’re going to get addicted to nicotine. It’s not a benign activity.”
More than 80 percent of youth who have tried tobacco products started with a flavored product – there are more than 15,500 e-cigarette flavors on the market, according to a CDPH press release.
Also increasing in popularity among teenagers are new e-cigarette devices called “pod mods.” One called “JUUL” looks like a flash drive and can be hidden from parents and teachers because of its deceptive design. Each JUUL cartridge contains the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of traditional cigarettes.
“Flavors disguise the harshness of tobacco and make smoking seem harmless, when we know it’s not,” CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Karen Smith said in a press release. “Innocent sounding e-cigarette flavors like Cherry Crush and Cotton Candy could lead to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.”
Larry Schallert, assistant director of College of the Canyons’ Student Health and Wellness Center’s mental health program, said flavored tobacco youth is definitely a problem.
“What we as a community are trying to do is to be sure that any marketing that’s done is not targeting youth by having colorful ads and flavorful ways of nicotine ingestion,” he said. “We know it’s a deadly product and we know that vaping is certainly not proven to be safer than cigarettes. With current marketing techniques you could conceivably fool youth into thinking this is safer or more acceptable than smoking cigarettes. We want to be clear that it’s not.”
E-cigarettes are the most common tobacco product used by youth in the U.S. In 2016, 13.6 percent of California high school students reported using tobacco products, and more than 8.6 percent reported using e-cigarettes, including “pod mods.”
Dave Caldwell, spokesman for the Hart School District, said e-cigarettes were prohibited on campus like any other tobacco products.
“Tobacco use is always a concern, so we want to take these kinds of things seriously so students understand what might be happening,” he said.
The district does not have official statistics on tobacco use among its students, Caldwell said.
“You used to be able to smell cigarettes on people’s clothing or breath, but now you can’t,” Stern said. “I think they think they’re getting away with something and that it’s not harmful and doesn’t have consequences.”
In November 2016, Californians passed Proposition 56 which funds tobacco-use prevention programs, a new state Oral Health Program and research on tobacco-related illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.