Address underage vaping

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh. - File photo by Faith Ayoung
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh. - File photo by Faith Ayoung

The Health Minister offered ritual concerns about vaping among children in the Senate on June 11.

His concerns are well placed, but the initiatives of his ministry fall far short of what's needed to raise awareness of the risks of vaping for children. It took decades for the full impact of smoking on the human body to be clear.

The global cigarette industry told outright lies, withheld information and determinedly obfuscated scientific facts in its efforts to keep smoking tobacco associated with luxury and fun and not death and cancer.

The protracted battle to dismantle the lies that supported and encouraged that dangerous and addictive lifestyle choice can't be the response to vaping, which is attracting ever younger users.

Boasting of hosting 12 health education seminar sessions at schools and talking to 1,200 children – a fraction of the school population – about the dangers of vaping falls far short of the kind of national effort needed to discourage this addictive habit from taking root among children.

In 1988, Reynolds, the manufacturer of Camel cigarettes, introduced a cartoon mascot, Joe Camel, which pointedly encouraged children to consider smoking over nine years of national advertising. The US Federal Trade Commission finally ruled against the advertising in 1997. By 2015, five of the ruggedly handsome men who posed in wild west-styled advertising for Marlboro cigarettes over decades died of smoking-related ailments such as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. E-cigarettes have been around since the 1920s but only began to go mainstream in 2004 after a Chinese pharmacist modernised the technology.

The era of cartoon characters and candy that looked like cigarettes has since been more insidiously replaced by clouds of sweet-smelling vapour as smoking declines and vaping grows in popularity.

Vaping's illusion of safety also encourages far more use of e-cigarettes than their paper and tobacco forbears, as users build tolerance and increase their use of the devices. This is a product that is built on the addictive quality of nicotine and is associated with lung and heart damage, tooth enamel damage and male sperm count reduction.

E-cigarettes are designed to be a delivery mechanism for nicotine, the same highly addictive chemical that drove the cigarette industry to success. It doesn't take many exposures to nicotine for addiction to take root and adolescent brains are believed to be significantly more likely to form dependencies on the chemical.

For that reason alone, guiding children away from the social attractions of being wreathed in clouds of smoke should occupy a clearer and more insistent part of the agenda of the Health Ministry.

Vaping may be safer than smoking cigarettes, but it is not a safe choice and not a toy for children to experiment with.


"Address underage vaping"

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