As all Florida counties return for in-person classes, the Florida Department of Health’s Tobacco Free Florida program is encouraging parents and teachers to talk to students about healthy lifestyles. This includes living tobacco and nicotine free and the importance of lung health.
All tobacco products are unsafe for youth and young adults, and the threat posed by tobacco use is even higher during the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who have returned, there has been increased focus around limiting the spread of COVID-19 and a new emphasis on facemasks, handwashing and social distancing for students and faculty. E-cigarette and tobacco use can present inherent barriers to those measures. Smoking and e-cigarette use require students to remove their face coverings. The more times they touch their face and mask, the more likely they expose their eyes, mouth and nose to the virus. Smoking and e-cigarette use also tend to be social activities for teens, with small groups sharing devices and standing in close proximity to each other, which has the potential to spread disease.
Perhaps most important is tobacco’s negative impact on lung health and our immune systems. The scientific and medical community is learning more about the health implications smoking has on COVID-19, but there are reasons for concern. Cigarette smoking can cause lung disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking can also weaken the immune system, making it harder to fight illnesses and infections.
“The events of this year should be a reminder of the importance of lung health and protecting our immune systems,” said Laura Corbin, Bureau Chief of Tobacco Free Florida. “While schools, teachers and parents continue taking precautionary steps to protect youth and their families from COVID-19, we want to encourage them to also talk about the importance of avoiding e-cigarettes and tobacco use, especially as new and emerging tobacco products continue entering the marketplace.”
In 2020, 21.6% of Florida high school students reported current e-cigarette use, a 15% decrease from 2019. While the decrease in high school e-cigarette use is encouraging, data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey shows an alarming increase in disposable e-cigarette products. On Sept. 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that disposable e-cigarette use among high school current e-cigarette users increased by 1,000% during 2019-2020. Evidence suggests that teens who use e-cigarettes may be at greater risk of starting to smoke regular cigarettes.
Additionally, using e-cigarettes can increase your odds of developing respiratory disease by 95% and can impact brain development until about age 25.
Youth tobacco prevention is a critical step to keeping our communities and future generations healthy. The Bureau of Tobacco Free Florida has created resources to help schools address youth tobacco product use. Adults who influence youth, such as parents, teachers, coaches and superintendents should become familiar with the new, disposable electronic cigarette products and educate youth about the dangers of these new emerging products. Tobacco Free Florida also offers free tools and services to help people quit nicotine, including e-cigarettes.
Learn more at tobaccofreeflorida.com. You can also visit EndTeenVapingFL.gov for more information and free printable materials that can be provided to youth, including brochures, posters and booklets.
About Tobacco Free Florida
The Florida Department of Health’s Tobacco Free Florida campaign is a statewide cessation and prevention campaign funded by Florida’s tobacco settlement fund. Since the program began in 2007, more than 234,000 Floridians have successfully quit using one of Tobacco Free Florida’s free tools and services. There are now approximately 451,000 fewer adult smokers in Florida than there was 10 years ago, and the state has saved $17.7 billion in health care costs. To learn more about Tobacco Free Florida’s Quit Your Way services, visit www.tobaccofreeflorida.com or follow the campaign on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TobaccoFreeFlorida or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tobaccofreefla.