Young Adults

How should the epidemic of e-cigarettes among teens be addressed? Health experts weigh in

On December 18th, the Surgeon General announced an advisory on e-cigarette use. In it, he called the rise in popularity of products like Juul an epidemic. Juul and its competitors in the e-cigarette industry have come under fire for potential health risks their products impose on users (largely teens). E-cigarettes contain addictive levels of nicotine, yet they appeal to youth with kid-friendly flavors in ways regular cigarettes often do not, presenting a unique challenge for public health experts.

In an interview with the chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, U.S. News covered various efforts to reduce the use of e-cigarettes. Experts have drawn many ideas from successful policies with traditional tobacco products, like taxation. Experiences with conventional cigarettes have taught us that price is important: where cigarettes cost more, people smoke less. When it comes to youth, who generally have a lower incomes than adults, a tax-induced price hike could be even more effective. Other time-tested interventions include smoke-free indoor air policies and reducing flavors with “blatant appeal to children.”

The medical officer also noted how regular cigarettes were once marketed as sexy, like Juul and its new technology are attractive to kids today. Yet social acceptance of cigarettes has reversed as cigarette health threats were exposed—the same change in norms could be possible with e-cigarette consumption.  

Other health experts caution against conflating traditional cigarettes with e-cigarettes. After all, there are notable differences between the two: the amount of nicotine in e-cigarettes varies widely; current laws allow e-cigarettes in many areas where traditional cigarettes are prohibited; and, unlike traditional cigarettes, users can stop and restart “smoking” e-cigarettes (e-cigarettes “burn” using a battery rather than flame, meaning users take take single puffs at a time rather than committing to an entire cigarette).  Mirroring e-cigarette policy with traditional cigarette policy in ways that fails to account for these differences could render the new interventions ineffective.

Ultimately, more research is needed on the health risks e-cigarettes impose on teens before effective interventions will be made possible on a nationwide level.

Friends for Life - They're Lifesaving

A quick Google search on friendships and its correlation to health results in many articles concerning the elderly, but a new study has focused on studying teens, for whom the conversation around mental health is especially important. Child Development recently found that close friends among adolescents can have lasting mental health benefits, which can be carried into adulthood, according to NPR.

 

The study, conducted over 10 years, followed 169 15-year-olds until they were 25-years-old. At age 15 and 16, researchers asked participants to record conversations with their friends. Teenage friends discussed the importance and level of trust and communication that was in their relationship at the time. Then, the participants completed annual surveys about their levels of anxiety and self-worth.

 

Researchers found that after 10 years, teenagers with strong, close friendships were more likely to report an improvement in anxiety and self-worth at age 25 than adults who did not have strong emotional links to their friends as teenagers. Stable friendships - especially same pairs of friends who showed up together year after year - seemed to provide participants with the greatest mental health gains.

 

The implications are fairly strong here. Teenagers who find support among each other are more likely to be able to weather challenges that they may face, according to the authors of the study. They also learn how to maintain close, important relationships from a young age, which lays the foundation for future healthy relationships.

 

At CHIL, our projects encourage friends to engage with each other as they participate in activities that can benefit their health. Friendships and teamwork go hand in hand, and a close friendship can be an extra incentive for children and students to invest time in themselves and each other. The importance of friends is a theme that pops up over and over again, but it should not become a cliche - it can really have an impact on a young person’s health in the long-term.

Sunlight and Your Eyes: A New Link?

Here’s a quirky idea: computer and television screens can damage eyes because the lack of sunlight can reshape the eyes and impair vision over time, according to a growing community of researchers. A new article in the New York Times cites a study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Ophthalmology) that offers an explanation for the growing prevalence of myopia, or nearsightedness, especially in children and young adults.

 

Nearsightedness is a condition in which the eyeball is longer than normal, altering the angle at which light meets the eye, which can cause problems for people when focusing on faraway objects. It is a condition that really illustrates the debate between “nature and nurture” -- even if you develop it as a child, nearsightedness can progress as you become an adult depending on a complex calculus of genetics factors and the environment.

 

Volunteers were given eye exams and asked how much time they spent outside during their childhood. Researchers found a strong correlation between “current eyesight and lifelong exposure to sunlight.” It’s important to remember that this particular study was a survey and not an experiment where the researchers imposed certain conditions to, say, measure the effect of sunlight exposure on prescriptions for eyeglasses. The researchers observed a trend where those who had been exposed to the most sun as teenagers were less likely to be nearsighted in middle age.

 

The link is not necessarily a causal one, but the implications are clear. Despite the fact that excessive exposure to sunlight certainly poses its own dangers, such as the risk of skin cancer, a healthy amount of exposure can really be positively correlated to multiple aspects of health, including vision. The observed correlation between sun exposure and healthy vision only strengthens the case against excessive exposure to screens and monitors indoors. Moderation is key, but it looks as if we are still unlocking the many benefits the sun has to offer.