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OUR VIEW: Tell kids the truth about vaping

THE ISSUE: E-cigarette use rises in adolescents
OUR VIEW: Best move is to help kids make informed decisions

There are fine lines to walk in the world of public health awareness campaigns. Statistics can be powerful tools to inform the public about a concern, but going too far can result in accusations of alarmism. Giving publicity to a problematic behavior might bestow more attention than it deserves and induce people to take part, but there also is danger in ignoring trends and hoping they go away.

Jennifer Kelsey did an admirable job on the tightrope last week. Kelsey, an OSF advanced practice registered nurse for family medicine, spoke to seventh- and eighth-graders at Wallace Elementary School in rural Ottawa last week as part of a series across the county to talk about vaping products and how electronic cigarettes can be more harmful than promoted.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, e-cigarette use increased 78 percent among high school students and 48 percent among middle school students from 2017 to 2018.

“Kids have the perception that it’s safer and the flavors are appealing and it’s just like eating candy,” Kelsey said.

Vaping may be safer than traditional cigarettes, but many products contain nicotine — even some marketed as not — and that substance is both addictive and demonstrated to hamper brain development; kind of an important thing for middle and high school students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports some chemicals used to flavor e-cigarettes can be safe when eaten but not when inhaled as the stomach can process more substances than the lungs.

Kelsey’s presentation and others like it are important because teens need to know what they’re encountering. That means explaining vaping technology so they can recognize it in real-world settings and giving unvarnished truth about health and safety effects. Such efforts are even more important in respect to legal substances than illicit drugs because kids are much more likely to see e-cigarettes or regular tobacco products or alcohol used and sold, and it can be hard to understand why something that is safe — or a more measured risk — for an adult isn’t on the same plane for children.

If, as the CDC said, products are falsely marketed as having zero nicotine content, those manufacturers should be held accountable. If state laws regarding vaping among teens need to be refined to be as strict as those regarding regular cigarettes, then we urge the medical community to sit down with legislators to make sure children are protected as much as possible.

But ultimately, there is individual responsibility for each person to know what they’re putting into their body and to have a reasonable understanding of how that substance can affect personal health. When children are involved the adults in their lives bear that responsibility as well, to have conversations about smart choices, cause and effect and risk and reward.

Kelsey does not go into schools on her own; she is invited in to reach out to young people at impressionable ages. We salute those schools and health professionals for taking these steps to keep children informed and encourage parents to continue the discussion at home.

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