By Constance Caldwell, M.D.
The good news is that smoking rates in our Yolo County communities are some of the lowest in the state. The bad news is that we have recently seen a very troubling trend among our youth.
Smoking in the 13-to-19 age range has more than doubled from 2007 to 2011, and is now over 15 percent. One of the culprits in this dangerous trajectory is a relatively new kid on the block: the e-cigarette.
As it turns out, e-cigarettes are not a form of tobacco at all, but still carry the same nicotine punch as a traditional cigarette. With e-cigarettes, nicotine is suspended in various liquids, vaporized and then inhaled as an aerosol.
Young people refer to the use of e-cigarettes as “vaping.” E-cigarettes have gained considerable popularity since their introduction in 2007, hence creating a whole new market in nicotine addiction.
The product and its use are unregulated in many states. In California, it is illegal to sell e-cigarette devices to minors. Regardless, it is exactly these teens to which this product is marketed.
\E-cigarettes come in pretty, bright colors and a variety of enticing flavors designed to appeal to teens and young adults. Many see these devices as entirely safe, but in reality, they are truly the ultimate “gateway” drug to nicotine addiction.
It is not just the smoke itself that is harmful in cigarette smoking. Nicotine is an extremely addictive drug. It is a powerful stimulant that alters brain chemistry and creates a nearly irresistible craving. Without nicotine, withdrawal symptoms ensue and the powerful urge to smoke persists.
Nicotine also has deleterious effects on the cardiovascular system, contributing to the hardening of the arteries and creating a trigger for heart attacks. The toll in chronic disease, even absent the smoke itself, is significant. It is unknown at this time what additional deleterious effects will result from inhaling the solvents in e-cigarettes, either for the user or secondhand.
The Yolo County Board of Supervisors soon will take up the issue of regulating e-cigarettes as other tobacco products are regulated in Yolo County, and the Health Department will be expanding its tobacco use prevention efforts to include a focus on e-cigarettes. Both of these steps are much-needed at this time, and surely will save lives.
Meanwhile, don’t be fooled by the new kid on the block; he’s no friend to anyone.
— Constance Caldwell, M.D., is Yolo County’s health officer.