By Dr. Tomás Torices, MD
How can I help my child quit e-cigarettes?
This is a difficult question that a rising number of parents are asking their pediatricians. Nearly half of teens in the US who use e-cigarettes want to quit but find it hard to do. As the executive director of the American Academy of Pediatrics, California Chapter 2 in Southern California, the skyrocketing rates of tobacco use among youth is a deeply concerning trend that requires swift action by our elected leaders.
Flavors are a major driver of the youth tobacco use epidemic. One of the most crucial steps the Los Angeles City Council could take to protect the health and future of our kids is to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products including e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, cigars and flavored shisha.
The tobacco industry has been unscrupulously targeting youth, as well as the Latino community, with enticing flavored tobacco products such as menthol, tamarindo and flan. According to a government study, 81 percent of kids who have ever tried tobacco started with a flavored product. So, the fact that almost 3.6 million kids in the US in 2020 were current e-cigarette users was no coincidence but the intended result.
E-cigarettes are highly addictive and harmful tobacco products. Nicotine exposure can affect the developing brain — the brain continues to develop until about age 25 — and may have long-lasting effects on kids’ attention, learning and memory.
Furthermore, a study among Southern California Latino young adults reported that using e-cigarettes increased the likelihood of using cigarettes or marijuana. Research shows that youth who use e-cigarettes had four times the odds of transitioning to smoke traditional cigarettes than peers who don’t use these devices.
It is well documented that menthol makes it easier to start smoking and more difficult to quit. It is also the preferred flavor among youth, with roughly half of teens who smoke reporting menthol cigarette use.
The tobacco industry spends close to $446 billion in marketing just in California. Big Tobacco knows that 95% of people who smoke started before the age of 21, and it’s using menthol, candy- and fruit-flavored tobacco products as bait so that our kids can replace the adults who smoke traditional cigarettes when they die.
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disability, disease and death in this country. Cancer, heart disease and strokes are among the top five causes of death among Latinos, all of which can be caused by smoking.
A chronic disease such as cancer can be emotionally and financially devastating for our families. One fourth of Latino adults don’t have a usual source of medical care.
It’s imperative we offset the toll of tobacco in our communities. Clearing store shelves of all flavored tobacco products will help reduce tobacco use.
This is why I’m joining public health organizations, like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, to urge the Los Angeles City Council to pass a comprehensive ordinance that ends the sale of all flavored tobacco products without exemptions.
Dr. Tomás Torices is the executive director for the American Academy of Pediatrics – California Chapter 2, which includes Los Angeles County among its 10 Southern California counties. The organization seeks to champion optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.