For two decades, Oklahoma and the rest of the nation made great progress in reducing teen smoking and tobacco use. Since 2003, the teen smoking rate in Oklahoma has dropped from 26.5% to 9.1%.
Today, the vaping epidemic puts all that progress at risk. More than 1 in 4 Oklahoma teens report vaping, a rate of use that has skyrocketed in just three years.
Tobacco Stops With Me, a program of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), launched in 2008 to educate Oklahomans about the dangers of tobacco use and secondhand smoke. Tobacco Stops With Me has also educated the public on raising the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21, which became federal law in December 2019. Oklahoma passed similar state regulations in May 2020. For several years now, Tobacco Stops With Me has also informed parents, educators and the public about the dangers of vaping.
Amy Cohn, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the OU College of Medicine and faculty member at the TSET Health Promotion Research Center, studies the effects of vaping.
Contrary to what many young people believe, the vapor produced from e-cigarettes is not water droplets – it is an aerosol composed of poisonous and addictive chemicals. Big Tobacco has also engineered the products to make the habit hard to break. Cohn cautions that while research on e-cigarettes has revealed that they may be less harmful than cigarettes, that doesn’t make them harmless.
“Tobacco companies want to get you hooked on their products. So, whenever you use their product, they want to make you a repeat customer,” Cohn said. “They do that by putting nicotine in their products and making their packaging colorful and bright. So, your destiny is out of your hands once you start.”
Recognizing the unique health challenges facing today’s kids, the TSET Healthy Youth Initiative launched in June 2020. The program is tailored for teenagers and focuses on teaching them about the dangers of vape use and other health threats.
Jeff Jordan, president and executive creative director of Rescue Agency and an expert in youth health interventions, explained why kids might take up vaping.
“Teens are looking for low-risk ways to ‘rebel,’ ” Jordan said. “Some stay out late. Others try alcohol or marijuana. And many teens think that vaping is a low-risk way to participate in a rebellious activity that bonds them with their friends. Interestingly, most teens have accepted the message that cigarette smoking is an unacceptable risk; they don’t know enough about the harm that vaping can cause to reject it.”
Teens can learn more by visiting the TSET Healthy Youth Initiative website: TSETHealthyYouth.com.
Many teens in Oklahoma have already tried vaping, and some are unable to quit due to the high amount of nicotine packed into these products. When the developing brain is exposed to nicotine, it creates receptors that can have lifelong effects and increase nicotine cravings, ultimately making it even harder to stop. That’s why TSET recently brought My Life, My Quit, a national youth cessation network, to Oklahoma. Oklahomans between the ages of 13 and 17 who are already tobacco or vape users can receive text-based cessation coaching.
By visiting MyLifeMyQuit.com or texting “Start My Quit” to 855-891-9989, teens can connect to free live texting and web chat support personalized for them. The services are confidential and do not provide nicotine patches, gum or lozenges. TSET also funds free quit services and resources for Oklahomans 18 and older through the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at OKhelpline.com or 1-800-QUIT NOW.
Tobacco Stops With Me offers a number of health education materials for parents and schools to promote tobacco-free lifestyles in youth. Through social media, TV, radio, print, blogs and more, Oklahomans have access to the latest data, resources and health facts to support a healthier, tobacco-free state. Posters and fact sheets are available for free at StopsWithMe.com. By logging on to the website, Oklahomans can stay informed about the tobacco industry’s latest tactics to hook teens. The website also offers tips for meaningful conversations with youth about the dangers of tobacco use and vaping.
TSET and Tobacco Stops With Me are committed to helping Oklahomans build better lives through better health. Learn more at StopsWithMe.com