According to a recent study by the New York State Health Department, the number of teens lighting up cigarettes in New York state has dropped dramatically in the last 16 years.
When Chris Owens, who runs a tobacco health program at St Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, saw figures showing an 84 percent drop in the teen smoking rate since 2000, he was ecstatic.
"That made me feel so good when I saw it, that drastic decrease in cigarette use by adolescents, because that’s really the key to long term tobacco abstinence,” said Owens.
But the next set of figures weren’t so great, showing total teen tobacco use on the rise.
"When you see that big uptick, it’s disheartening that it’s just moved from cigarettes to other tobacco products,” said Owens.
Those other products are mostly electronic cigarettes. Teen use of vaping devices doubled in just two years, according to state figures. Joseph Wicks, community engagement coordinator for the Tobacco Free Network of Central New York, said he thinks one of the big reasons for the increase, is a relentless advertising and marketing push aimed at teens.
“When you’re pummeled with such a huge budget, I mean $800,000 a day, that's ridiculous. And that’s just New York state. And they’re seeing it all the time, it becomes normal," said Wicks.
Owens said many teens think vaping is safe. But he emphasized that studies show the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes contains ultra fine particles linked to lung disease. Owens also said it’s harder to kick a nicotine addiction as an adult after it latches on to the growing brain of a teenager.
“If a person starts smoking when their brain is still at the developmental level, their brain actually starts to grow more receptor sites for the nicotine," said Owens. "So the younger you start, the more receptor sites you can develop, and hence the more nicotine addicted you can be as an adult.”
To deal with this, he’d like to see more counties raise the smoking age from 18 or 19, to 21. He also suggested higher taxes on e-cigarettes to possibly discourage use among teens.