The 2015 New Hampshire Youth Risk Behavior Survey released last month showed the use of electronic cigarettes among state teens has exceeded the use of any other substance. Wikimedia Commons photo
DOVER — Like a game of whack-a-mole, electronic cigarettes have replaced traditional tobacco products as a health concern among area youth. That’s according to the latest in a series of statewide surveys on health-related teen behavior.
Use of electronic cigarettes, e-cigs or vaping, has exceeded the use of any other substance while traditional tobacco use — cigarettes, cigars and pipes — is down, according to the 2015 New Hampshire Youth Risk Behavior Survey released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lori Garand, who teaches health at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, said aggressive marketing of e-cigs and vaping products has led to the proliferation of use among teenagers. “This is who the companies want,” she said. “They’re owned by the tobacco companies and there’s a reason why they’re doing it.”
Garand said while traditional smoking is down among teenagers, a lot of tobacco users simply switched out regular cigarettes for electronic ones.
“I almost don’t need to talk to kids about tobacco anymore,” she said. “But electronic cigarettes are marketed with flavors like ‘cookies and cream.’ All these things entice kids.”
According to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, 14,837 students in 67 New Hampshire high schools were surveyed. Of the 67, 12 are in the Seacoast Sunday readership area — Sanborn, Epping, Exeter, Portsmouth and Winnacunnet, which were classified in the survey as Seacoast schools; and Dover, Farmington, Nute (Milton), Oyster River (Durham), Somersworth, Spaulding (Rochester) and Bud Carlson Academy in Rochester, which were classified as Strafford County schools.
The survey is used by schools, law enforcement and government officials to set priorities and make policies. The survey covers behaviors such as bullying, sexual activity, texting while driving, driving without a seatbelt and drug and alcohol abuse.
E-cigs use a heating element to vaporize a liquid to be inhaled. According to the survey, one-fourth of students statewide reported using the devices at least once in the 30 days before the survey. That number was 28 percent for Seacoast schools and 30 percent for Strafford County schools.
Molly Martuscello, coalition coordinator at Bridging the Gaps, a drug-and alcohol-abuse prevention program in Rochester, said regular smoking is decreasing among teenagers thanks in large part to national anti-smoking advertising campaigns.
“But we see an increase in vaping,” she said. “You’re seeing more stores pop up now. It’s becoming a bit more mainstream.”
Martuscello said access to e-cigs is easier than regular tobacco products for teens.
The debate about e-cigs’ continues. Originally introduced to the public as a way to help people quit smoking, concerns have grown about their health effects compared to regular tobacco.
“There’s little research on the consequences of e-cigs,” said Vicki Hebert, coalition coordinator at Dover Youth to Youth, an after-school drug-prevention program coordinated by the Dover Police Department Community Outreach Bureau. “A lot of companies are advertising it as a safe alternative and the perception is that it’s safer among teenagers.”
The survey provided good news for those who want to see less smoking. Those who reported themselves as currently smoking cigarettes fell from 21 percent to 9 percent. Among Seacoast schools, those who reported smoking in the last 30 days was 9 percent, while it was 12 percent among Strafford County students.
Dana Mitchell, coordinator of Dover Youth to Youth, said no distinction should be made between e-cigs and the real thing.
“Nicotine is nicotine,” Mitchell said. “It’s one of the most addictive drugs out there. It acts fast and holds on. Kids think it’s safe, and the research is so new that we don’t know what the long-term consequences are.”
Mitchell said his group is trying to convey that e-cigs are equally as addictive as regular tobacco. “You’re putting a chemical in your body,” he said.
According to the survey, alcohol remains the most-consumed substance, with 11 percent saying they drank before age 13, and 30 percent of all high school students statewide saying they currently drink. Among Seacoast schools, 34 percent reported they had at least one drink in the 30 days before the survey, while Strafford County schools listed 34 percent.