Voices of Youth: A call to curb youth e-cigarette use

This article is part of Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Kent County youth in partnership with Rapid Growth staff mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, Annette G. Vazquez explores e-cigarette use among teens.

What was once used as a safer alternative to cigarettes is seeing life-threatening consequences of its own. 

There are 2.8 million students currently using tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes and cigars. Anti-vaping legislation had modest results — between 2022 and 2023, e-cigarette use among high school students decreased, but it increased among middle school students. 

A product once advertised by doctors in the 1930s, cigarettes were popular until we started learning about the substantial health problems traditional smoking causes, such as lung cancer, kidney failure and more. As a result, smoking rates have fallen in recent years and many consumers turned to vape products, which have lower chemical amounts but still carry risks.

The popularity of nicotine, CBD and marijuana vapes reaches teenagers through interesting vape flavors, marketing at festivals and entertainment events,and marketing through influencers and celebrities. This rapid rise in popularity has caused teenagers around the country to pick up the habit of regular e-cigarette smoking. 

CanvaThere are 2.8 million students currently using tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes and cigars.

Lee High School student Vanely Bastardo G. said she does not interact with smoking-related media but still gets targeted advertising for these types of products. 

“I often see videos on YouTube that display smoking in a casual setting, as if it was nothing and more similar to a stress reliever,” she says.

Contrary to public belief, alternatives to cigarettes and cigars have brought about health concerns — severe ones, too. Nicotine, CBD and marijuana vapes have been linked to health issues like lung and heart disease, asthma, and pulmonary hypertension, among others. These health issues are not temporary and leave people with side effects such as shortness of breath, fatigue and low oxygen levels. Also, there is a strong relationship between youth smoking and depression, anxiety and stress

CanvaNicotine, CBD and marijuana vapes have been linked to health issues like lung and heart disease, asthma, and pulmonary hypertension, among others.

What’s being done in Grand Rapids

Currently, the sale and possession of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 is not allowed, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bills 106 and 155 in 2019 that prohibited such use. Later that year, federal legislation raised that age to 21 and included all tobacco products. 

Since 2021, tobacco, marijuana and electronic smoking devices have been banned from Grand Rapids parks and playgrounds — where teenagers often hang out — in hopes of creating a cleaner environment and healthier area for children. These rules are in addition to the ban on smoking in almost all public places in Michigan.

On the local level, organizations and campaigns such as No Cigs for Our Kids Campaign, the Grand Rapids Urban League, and Teens Against Tobacco Use provide education and awareness surrounding teen vaping. Specifically, the Grand Rapids Urban League has held education events with the Mayor’s Youth Council, New City Youth Group, neighborhood associations and the superintendent’s youth advisory council.

Some schools have put measures in place to prevent smoking in their schools, such as patrolling restrooms, altering the curriculums for health courses and holding seminars where parents and students can gain more information.

There are many support groups for people who want to quit smoking. Groups like Priority Health, My Life, My Quit and Spectrum Health's Let's Quit Smoking offer programs as well as in-person and online tools to help people quit smoking. 
According to Lee High School Teacher Ted Cherry, helping students connect the dots between vaping and its side effects is an effective strategy.

“Anything is fixable with some proper education,” Cherry says. 

If you are a teenager and are thinking of using substances, please call 1-800-LUNGUSA. Although you might think that you won’t get addicted to smoking, it can drastically change your life more quickly than you think. 

To learn more about Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click here. This series is made possible via underwriting sponsorships from the Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, PNC Foundation and Kent ISD.

Annette G. Vazquez is a senior at Lee High School and a Grand Rapids native. She is interested in social change and uses that to guide her on her path of becoming a program director. She hopes to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration and incorporate philanthropy into her career to help others in a variety of ways. 
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