In late 2017, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services released good news: The adult smoking rate in West Virginia, consistently one of the highest in the United States, had dropped from 28.6 percent in 2011 to 24.8 percent in 2016.
Furthermore, much of this decline was attributed to the success of anti-tobacco school programs in West Virginia and those non-smoking students then aging into adulthood.
Still, it’s not a completely rosy picture. West Virginia just edges out Kentucky to hold the title of the state with the highest percentage, at 14.4 percent, of smoking teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And, at around a quarter of the population, West Virginia still prevails as the state with the highest rate of smokers in general.
Now, vaping has become an issue. According to the CDC, e-cigarettes are sometimes called “e-cigs,” “vapes,” “e-hookahs,” “vape pens” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).” Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens and other everyday items.
Whatever form they come in, they still can contain the following substances:
- Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
- Flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease
- Volatile organic compounds
- Cancer-causing chemicals
- Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead
The CDC notes that e-cigarettes can be helpful in helping some individuals quit smoking. However, scientists are still looking into the effects of vaping, and several groups, including children, teens and pregnant women, are advised to avoid the habit altogether.
According to state Sen. Ron Bollings, D-W.Va., who introduced the bill, about 4 million students under the age of 18 in the United States currently vape. Bollings was quoted in the Dominion Post.
National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), runs through Sunday. The goal is to highlight what can happen when smoking, drinking and drug use begin at an early age and to convince teens not to start at all.
According to a booklet released by NIDA in 2010 and revised in 2015, most people who smoke started before the age of 18. Product placement in movies and TV shows contributes to the idea that smoking is cool, which prompts teens to start lighting up even when faced with the facts on how addictive it is and how bad it is for their health.
The booklet calls on their common sense as well as their vanity to convince them otherwise. Cigarette smoking can lead not only to lung cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer and heart disease, but also wrinkles, yellow teeth, cataracts and skin disease.
Then there is drinking. About 1 in 4 of the teens who begin drinking before age 15 become alcoholics.
Alcohol can lead not only to a slew of medical problems but to bad judgment and impairment. Those conditions can cause a teen to drive while drunk, get into a car with a driver who is drunk, take other drugs or to uninhibited sex that can lead to sexually-transmitted diseases, some of which, such as HIV, are not curable.
In fact, according to NIDA, behaviors associated with drug misuse are among the main factors in the spread of HIV infection in the United States.
If you have a teenager in your life, make sure they know that alcohol, smoking and drugs are not all fun and games and have real-life consequences.
Last year, NIDA released an animated version its booklet, "Drugs: Shatter the Myths." It’s worth sharing it with the teens in your life.