Vaping has become an epidemic among U.S. adolescents, but many young vapers don’t know what the e-cigarette products they are using contain. Recent studies indicate most minors either don’t know that vapes contain nicotine or they aren’t aware of the damaging effects nicotine is likely having on their brain.

To fill in these understanding gaps and raise awareness about nicotine’s effects on young brains, the California Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Control Program has created a one-minute video ad it calls “Nicotine Equals.”

The ad is featured on the “Flavors Hook Kids” campaign website, part of the state’s efforts to beat back the vaping epidemic. It portrays kids and teens grappling with the effects of nicotine addiction at school and at home. Some of the students appear aloof and dejected. Others are irascible and argumentative or secretive and anxious. Touching on the symptoms of nicotine poisoning, the video builds to the conclusion that “nicotine = brain poison.”

Tragically, many young vapers do not know what the vape products they are using contain nicotine. A recent study found that 98.7% of all vaping products sold at convenience stores, supermarkets and similar outlets contain nicotine. Yet, most young people aren’t aware that the products contain nicotine or they don’t know about nicotine’s harmful effects. About 60% of teens surveyed in the study incorrectly reported vape pens as being comprised of mostly flavoring.

With cigarette smoking in decline across the U.S., the industry knew it needed a broader customer base to sustain its products and boost its profits. Following in the footsteps of Big Tobacco companies, the vape manufacturers targeted a new generation of non-smokers with a spectrum of sweet flavors with candy store appeal. They intensified these efforts with youth-oriented social media campaigns and even boosted the level of nicotine in vape products to ensure kids became solidly hooked on the drug.

“I can’t believe tobacco flavored products look exactly like the candy my children eat,one concerned San Bruno, California, parent told Tobacco Free California.

Vape manufacturers were incredibly successful with their marketing efforts. Vape product usage by high school students increased by 78% between 2017-2018. The total number of middle and high school students using vape devices soared to 3.6 million in 2018 — an increase of 1.5 million compared to the previous year, and public health officials expect youth vaping rates to climb even higher this year.

If you’re the parent of a teen or child who has started vaping, you have every right to be angry. The vaping industry is literally poisoning your kids. As the California Tobacco Control Program warns, nicotine is one of the most toxic of all poisons. “It can rewire the brain, particularly vulnerable in the developing years, from adolescence to mid-twenties. Nicotine changes the teen brain and affects attention, learning, and memory. It can worsen stressors already challenging in adolescence: impulsivity, learning difficulties, irritability, anxiety and mood swings. But unlike other adolescent phases, changes to the brain from nicotine can be permanent.”

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, vape products contain other harmful and potentially harmful ingredients in addition to nicotine, including ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs; flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds (VOCs); and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead.

Beasley Allen lawyer Joseph VanZandt is investigating cases involving young people suffering from adverse health effects after vaping. The devices have been connected to problems including seizures, nicotine addiction, nicotine poisoning, breathing problems, behavioral and psychological problems and other serious health conditions.

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