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Alternative tobacco products: Same old thing, new way to get it

Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, or ENDS, are tobacco products that are not conventional cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. You've seen people use them: vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens, e-cigarettes and e-pipes. These products are being used to entice youth to the world of tobacco use. In fact, the use of e-cigarettes (also called vaping) in middle and high school students has increased dramatically over the last several years.  

E-cigarettes include flavored tobacco that appeals to young people, like bubble gum and cotton candy. The 2015 National Youth Survey reports 81 percent of students using e-cigs said they do so because of the flavors.

Another theory points to advertising. Advertising rules that apply to traditional tobacco products are slightly different for e-cigarettes because they are advertised as a "safer" alternative to regular cigarettes. This gives the misconception they are less harmful. At this time, it's unknown if they are less harmful, equal to, or even more harmful than traditional tobacco products. Even though an e-cigarette label states to have zero nicotine, that's not always the case. Federal and private funded studies have found nicotine in some of the nicotine-free juices.

E-cigarettes contain at least 26 chemicals that are known to be harmful, causing cancer and reproductive issues. E-cigarette chemicals are also in the vaper, meaning being around someone who is vaping is no different than being around someone who is smoking. The Surgeon General recently released a report on e-cigs that states the use of e-cigs and second-hand vape are hazardous to our health and can be a gateway to conventional tobacco use. In Minnesota, vaping is not allowed in most places where smoking is not allowed.

Hookahs are another tobacco product gaining popularity in schools. Hookah tobaccos come in many flavors and use is typically done in groups, making it a social time with friends. A one-hour hookah session is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes in terms of the amount of smoke inhaled. One hookah session compared to smoking one cigarette gives out 72 times more tar, four times more nicotine and 11 times more carbon monoxide.    

These new "cool and fun" tobacco products are often just another way to entice youth to start using tobacco products. Using nicotine during adolescence can harm a person's brain since the brain continues to develop up to age 25. My biggest piece of advice is to take the time to talk with your kids about tobacco and tell them the truth about these products.

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Sober curious: The benefits of abstaining from alcohol

Making a decision to take a break from alcohol has become a popular trend. For people who drink socially, abstaining from alcohol for a month (for example, “Dry January”) or being sober curious, when out with friends, gives you a chance to step back and evaluate what drinking is doing or not doing for you.

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