Research shows that more kids than ever are saying “no” to cigarettes. But that’s not the whole story.
Unfortunately, while cigarette use is on the decline among kids, use of alternative tobacco products like e-cigarettes has risen sharply.
Kid-friendly flavors, fun packaging and targeted marketing attract young smokers. And products like the e-cigarette brand Juul are very easy to conceal from parent and teachers, even while they are in use.
Kids and adults may think these products don’t have health risks. That’s not true.
“All tobacco products are dangerous,” says Alexander V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Youth and Family Cancer Prevention Program at MD Anderson. “Tobacco use at a young age can cause both immediate and long-term health problems.”
Use our guide to learn what products are on the market so you can inform your kids.
E-cigarette use among young smokers is higher than all other tobacco products combined.
E-cigarettes, are smokeless electronic devices that can look like cigarettes, but can also look like pens or other bulkier devices. E-cigarette users inhale an aerosol of flavored liquid nicotine similar to the way a smoker puffs on a cigarette.
JUUL brand e-cigarettes have become especially popular with kids. They look like a flash drive and don’t produce much aerosol, so adults might not recognize them for what they are: a nicotine delivery device.
Kids may think “vaping” is safe, because the devices don’t burn tobacco. However, one JUUL pod may contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes – about 200 puffs. The nicotine and other harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes are not safe, especially for youth.
The bottom line: even though they don’t burn tobacco, e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive. Nicotine is also harmful for developing brains and bodies. Youth who try e-cigarettes are more likely to go on to smoke, which puts them at risk for lung cancer and heart disease.
Convenience stores and gas stations are the biggest sellers of flavored cigars. You can often find them next to the candy aisle.
Flavored cigars come in cherry, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and more. Plus, they’re cheaper than a pack of gum. A typical pack of 20 costs about $2.
“The amount of nicotine in an average cigar is nearly 20 times that of a conventional cigarette,” Prokhorov says. “And teens aren’t just puffing on cigars, they’re inhaling. Smoking flavored cigars causes cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, esophagus, and lung.”
Cigarillos, or little cigars, are a cousin to the flavored cigar. They’re sweet, cheap and come in colorful packages.
Cigarillos come in flavors like chocolate, strawberry, peach, grape, sour apple, watermelon and more. Such sweet flavors mask the harsh flavor of tobacco. They sell in packs of 20 or individually for less than 70 cents.
Cigarillos may seem fun to kids, but they contain the same dangerous chemicals as regular cigarettes and cigars. Smoking them can cause heart disease, lung cancer and lung disease.
Hookahs are water pipes that create flavored tobacco vapor. Most people use hookahs at bars and cafes to socialize, but companies also sell hookahs for personal use.
An average hookah session lasts about 40 minutes. Users can inhale about 100 times the amount of smoke that’s in a cigarette. Hookahs may appear to be fancy and trendy, but they’re not safe alternatives to cigarettes because they contain cancer-causing chemicals.
Smokeless tobacco is dip or chew typically sold in tins. Users chew on it or place it under the lip. SNUS is a type of smokeless tobacco that originated in Sweden (the word “snus” is “snuff” in Swedish). It is less toxic and doesn’t require spitting. It sells loosely or in small bags known as pouches.
A can of smokeless tobacco typically costs $3 to $5. The number of white high school males who use smokeless tobacco is on the rise – one in five uses smokeless tobacco. It may not be as dangerous as cigarette smoking but certainly not harmless.
Users absorb the toxins in smokeless tobacco through the lining of their mouth. It causes oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancers. It may also cause heart disease, gum disease and oral lesions.
“Parents, talk to your kids about the dangers of tobacco use,” Prokhorov says. “Tell your children what they’re not hearing from media and friends, seeing in movies and reading on the internet.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.