Unmasking The Silent Epidemic Threatening Our Youth


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Unmasking The Silent Epidemic Threatening Our Youth
Unmasking The Silent Epidemic Threatening Our Youth

Indulging in new-age gateway products such as vaping is becoming a gateway for more individuals to initiate tobacco use

In the ever-evolving landscape of tobacco use, a new spectre looms large – New-Age Gateway Products including Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), heat-not-burn (HNB), e-hookah, e-cigarettes and Vapes. Beyond the familiar realms of smoking, this trend is not just a fad; it’s a burgeoning concern with far-reaching consequences. Delving into the heart of the matter, we confront an escalating crisis that extends beyond traditional boundaries, ensnaring individuals including children globally in a web of lifelong addiction.

Recent studies underscore the alarming trend that indulging in New-Age Gateway Products such as vaping is becoming a gateway for more individuals, especially young adults, to initiate tobacco use. A notable survey reveals that a significant number of young people are getting hooked on e-cigarettes which can have a dangerous impact. This shift in initiation patterns raises serious concerns about the long-term health consequences and the potential for a new generation to be ensnared in the clutches of addiction.

One critical aspect of this issue is the data suggesting that these New-Age Gateway Products are not a substitute for smoking as pushed by international tobacco companies but a distinct and powerful initiator of addiction of a different nature. Several studies indicate that the number of individuals trying vaping is fast surpassing those who take up smoking. The allure of flavours, discreet packaging, and the misconception that vaping is less harmful contribute to its growing popularity, particularly among the youth.

An Australian expert recently addressed the Members of the Scottish Parliament, shedding light on a disconcerting reality — the vaping industry seems to have a profound interest in cultivating a new generation of lifelong customers. The marketing strategies employed by these international tobacco companies are designed to appeal to younger demographics, creating a concerning link between the rise in vaping initiation and the long-term goals of these corporations. The expert’s testimony emphasizes the urgent need for regulatory measures to curb the influence of these entities on the youth.

While traditional smoking has long been associated with health risks, these New-Age Gateway Products introduce a different set of concerns. E-cigarettes often contain high levels of nicotine, a highly addictive substance. The ease with which one can access and use these devices, coupled with enticing flavours, makes them particularly appealing to young individuals. It is not uncommon for those who start with vaping to transition to an addictive model soon, amplifying the potential for lifelong addiction and its associated health hazards.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also expressed apprehension about the impact of vaping on public health. The organization highlights the need for comprehensive regulations to address the risks associated with these products, ranging from their appeal to minors to the potential for serving as a gateway to other substance use. Governments worldwide are grappling with the challenge of crafting policies that strike a balance between harm reduction for existing smokers and protecting the youth from the allure of vaping.

In light of these findings, policymakers, public health officials, and communities must collaborate on effective strategies to curb the rising tide of initiation to New-Age Gateway Products. Education campaigns targeting both parents and students can play a pivotal role in dispelling myths surrounding vaping and its perceived harmlessness. Additionally, stringent regulations must be put in place to restrict the marketing outreach of these New-Age Gateway Products companies that seem intent on creating a new generation of addicts.

There is a need to advocate for a holistic approach around stringent enforcement on the ground to address the vaping epidemic. This includes robust educational initiatives, evidence-based policy reforms, and collaboration with experts and lawmakers to create a comprehensive framework that safeguards the well-being of our youth. By acknowledging the distinct threat posed by New-Age Gateway Products and taking decisive action, we can work towards mitigating the long-term consequences of this burgeoning public health crisis.

While it is alarming that a vast majority of children are unaware that these New-Age Gateway Products are already banned in India, access to these products seems to be at ease for those seeking them. Even law enforcement at the grassroots level needs to be made aware of this, or else porous and mis-declared imports into the country and their easy availability through those having access to school children can make this a serious upcoming health disaster waiting to happen.

(The author is Director General, Association of Healthcare Providers; Views expressed are personal)

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