Protecting Youth from E-Cigarettes

Categories: Tobacco Free, Tobacco Free Living

Pictured, Kate McNally and Jane Skantze stand with Jeff the Diseased Lung.

Slightly adapted from Breathing Matters, the newsletter from Breathe New Hampshire.

Because nicotine is such an addictive drug, keeping children from ever picking up a cigarette or today’s threat, electronic cigarettes, is key. Two professionals in the Monadnock region are tackling that challenge head-on.

The Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco-Free Communities (CCTFC), a Healthy Monadnock Partner located at the Center for Population Health at Cheshire Medical Center / Dartmouth Hitchcock, is tackling one of New Hampshire’s top challenges: tobacco-related addiction, illness, and death. Kate McNally is the program manager and Jane Skantze is a tobacco control specialist. A current focus is youth—as early as middle school—becoming addicted to nicotine, through “vaping” electronic cigarettes.

Latest Threat to Kids’ Lungs

Although some users believe e-cigarettes are safer than smoking, research is scanty, since the products are unregulated.“We don’t have all the science to be able to say with conviction one way

“We don’t have all the science to be able to say with conviction one way or the other,” McNally said. “Knowing how people with lung issues are affected by perfume etc., my feeling is that aerosols of any kind aren’t good to inhale.” Kate McNally received Breathe New Hampshire’s Robert B. Kerr Award in 2016 for her professional commitment to furthering lung health.

Skantze added that the US Surgeon General recently determined that e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless and can contain harmful and potentially dangerous chemicals. “We also know that nicotine in any form is not safe for young developing brains,” McNally said. Nicotine is “the most addictive drug there is,” so the aim of the Cheshire Coalition is to keep children and young people from being exposed. With flavors from bubble gum to caramel to fruit juice, and packaging featuring sparkles, skulls and Hello Kitty, tobacco companies (which own e-cigarette brands) target younger customers.

McNally and team are fighting back by including e-cigarettes in all of their anti-drug efforts, by ensuring that tobacco-free language appears in policies for parks and recreation areas, for example.
Skantze worked with the Town of Swanzey to incorporate tobacco-free playground and recreation policies. The town has also chosen to make municipal areas tobacco free, and that includes banning the use of e-cigarettes.

They do this in partnership with CCTFC members and local substance misuse coalitions to make sure everyone is incorporating the dangers of tobacco and nicotine into messaging.

“Jeff the Diseased Lung” is a character created by a weekly TV show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, to demonstrate the unglamorous effects of tobacco use. “Jeff” sports a cowboy hat and boots, reminiscent of a popular cigarette brand icon.

“Jeff is pretty popular, especially with the college crowd,” according to McNally. “He’s an attention getter.” Cheshire Medical Center providers use Jeff to promote being tobacco-free and options available to quit by wearing buttons that say “Ask me about Jeff.”

McNally added, “It’s important that we make sure we always provide alternatives for children and youth, making it not just about tobacco. It would be nice if funding for prevention was more rigorous, to support better leadership and programming for youth.

“What works against substance use also works when it comes to e-cigarettes, so we should work together to promote prevention,” McNally said.

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes or e-cigs are types of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Nicotine in liquid form (called e-juice) and other substances (including flavorings, of which there are thousands) is heated with a battery into an aerosol and inhaled (known as vaping). Because some e-cigs may contain less nicotine than combustible tobacco, some users “vape” as a way of cutting down on nicotine. However, nicotine is still a powerful addictive substance. E-cigs are not regulated by the FDA. It is illegal to sell e-cigs to minors in New Hampshire.
In 2010, Breathe NH was instrumental in helping to pass HB 1541 prohibiting sales of e-cigarettes to minors.

Contact the CCTFC with questions regarding smoke-free living for your family, workplace or town at tobacco-free@cheshire-med.com.