AHA tackles youth vaping crisis with massive new initiative

The American Heart Association is fighting for the country’s young people and against the vaping epidemic by funding millions in new nicotine research, working to strengthen laws and policies nationwide, and exposing the e-cigarette industry’s lies.

Understanding vaping dangers

With funding of $20 million, the End the Lies Youth Vaping and Nicotine Research Initiative will fund groundbreaking projects that focus on understanding how nicotine impacts young people.

“This research project, one of the largest ever funded by the association, will help us answer critical questions about the health consequences of e-cigarette use and nicotine addiction, particularly in youth,” said AHA President Robert A. Harrington, MD, FAHA.

The effects on the heart, brain, lungs and blood vessels are not well understood, especially among children and adolescents. The recent spate of vaping-related lung disease and deaths is a tragic validation of this knowledge gap.

Priority areas for the research initiative include:

  • Nicotine's impact on adolescent brain development, intelligence and learning;
  • The impact of nicotine and other e-cigarette compounds on the cardiovascular system;
  • How device types, flavors and other e-cigarette chemicals and byproducts influence addiction;
  • How to treat nicotine addiction in youth using behavioral, pharmacological and mobile health technology solutions;
  • How effective e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery devices are for smoking cessation; and
  • The impact of regulatory policies on youth e-cigarette use.

Changing laws and policies

The AHA is joining forces with Kaiser Permanente in the Preventing Youth Nicotine Addiction Policy Fund, which aims to ensure federal, state and community lawmakers and policymakers do their part.

“Strong regulation and oversight can help prevent youth access and avoid a lifetime of nicotine addiction that can begin with vaping,” said Dr. Bechara Choucair, senior vice president and chief community health officer for Kaiser Permanente.

Policy efforts include urging the Food and Drug Administration to exercise regulatory authority over e-cigarettes, such as removing flavors — including menthol and mint — from the market and prohibiting flavored tobacco products of any kind.

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said the FDA needs to do much more when it comes to advertising and messaging on social media directed to youth.

“The FDA has let our country down. It has let our kids down,” she said. “The advertising that is done now is not legal. They (the FDA) are not doing their job. We continue to press our partners to do more.”

The fund will support continuing advocacy efforts to:

  • Restrict tobacco sales to adults 21 and older;
  • Prohibit marketing to kids;
  • Include e-cigarettes in comprehensive smoke-free laws; and
  • Tax e-cigarettes at the same rates as traditional tobacco.

Calling out industry’s dishonest tactics

The #QuitLying community engagement campaign will empower kids, schools and communities to call out JUUL and other e-cigarette companies for their lies about vaping and nicotine addiction.

The campaign will help people share the lies and facts about e-cigarettes on social media. It also will include a website, a national #QuitLying Day early next year, and school and community forums.

“E-cigarette companies lie to our kids when they falsely claim their products are safe, and they deceive parents by marketing devices that look like USB drives, pens and eye liner,” Brown said.

“My 14-year-old son and his friends deserve better than to be targeted and manipulated by Big Vape’s insidious marketing tactics that have caused more than 5 million youth nationwide to begin e-cigarette use,” said Bertram Scott, chair of the AHA board of directors. “E-cigarette companies have simply borrowed from Big Tobacco’s marketing playbook in their effort to addict a new generation of nicotine users.”

Teens, parents and educators are encouraged to learn more and join the campaign at QuitLying.org.