I made my second visit to the Malibu Middle School 7th grade on Monday, and it was great to catch up with a couple of my former students that are doing great things at Malibu HS. That’s one of the benefits of having a K-12 all on the same property, and I always enjoy hearing from the older kids. My day with the 7th graders was spent talking about tobacco and some of the alternative methods that folks use to smoke or ingest tobacco products and/or nicotine.
I started the discussion with a talk about how these products are advertised. Fifty years ago, there weren’t a lot of rules regarding how drugs were marketed or presented in the media, and the tobacco companies took full advantage of that with advertisements like these:
As the research about the dangers of tobacco became more refined, it became clear that the tobacco companies were advertising in an unethical and dangerous manner, especially in regards to children. As a result, strict laws were passed to restrict how and when tobacco could be advertised. Now the ads look more like this:
Regardless of the content of the ad (a picture of cigarettes or some nonsense with people playing tug o war), there are large warning labels on all of these tobacco products. However, relying on the law to maintain guidelines on issues like this is problematic because these types of laws are often reactionary (only coming after the problem is established). Alcohol is also extremely dangerous if abused (especially for kids), but the restrictions on alcohol advertising are miniscule compared to tobacco (just turn on a random sporting event to see the difference). For example, compare the warning on this ad for an alcoholic soda (certainly something that would qualify as an entry level booze for a teenager) to a warning on a chewing tobacco ad:
Alcohol and tobacco have been legal (with a small exception in the 1920’s) for all of US history, and we are still trying to figure out the proper regulations. What about the new stuff? Vaping and e-cigarettes were invented in the last decade, and after a century of prohibition, marijuana is slowly becoming legalized across America. We are still figuring out how to deal with these new options for recreational drug use for adults, but in the meantime the messages being sent to kids are confusing and dangerous. I emphasized to the students that any ad they see for a vape device or some sort of marijuana/THC product is just that: an advertisement trying to sell them something.
There aren’t any real restrictions on advertising marijuana and vaping products yet, and at this point the long term effects (especially for children) are still being studied. What we do know is that teen use of marijuana and other THC products is harmful to children, and the same can be said for nicotine (from smoking or vaping). With all that in mind, I reminded the kids that they should look at any advertisement with the idea of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).
After talking about advertising, I moved on to another alternative to smoking cigarettes which has grown more popular in the United States every year: hookah pipes. Many of the kids had heard of a hookah, but almost all of them were confused as to what it was. Many of the kids thought it was closer to a vape device than a smoking device, and almost none of the kids were aware that it had anything to do with tobacco.
During our discussion, we talked about the dangers of smoking in general. It doesn’t matter if its marijuana or tobacco, or if the smoking is done with a water pipe (hookah or bong) or with a cigarette or cigar. If you are smoking, you are doing damage to your body, and the more you smoke the more damage you are doing. Smoking increases risks for problems like: emphysema, lung disease, higher risk of cancer, chronic bronchitis and heart disease.
During a short video presentation specifically directed towards the rise in popularity of hookah pipes we talk about:
- what hookah pipes are and their growing popularity as an alternate form of smoking.
- the similar health risks between smoking cigarettes, cigars and water pipes
- dispelling myths regarding hookahs being a less damaging type of smoking (they are not).
Video: The Hookah Hoax by HRM
Popular culture spends a lot of time debating better or worse (alcohol vs marijuana, smoking vs vaping, etc), and these might be valid and important questions for adults. However, teens need to understand that using any of these products while they are still maturing can have profound effects on their growth and development … even if the guy on youtube says its harmless.