If you wanted kids to do poorly in school and in life, you would give them cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. You can add electronic cigarettes to that list, which weren’t around for previous generations. According to the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the percentage of kids who had ever smoked a cigarette in 2013 was 24 percent, but in the 2017 version of the survey, the percentage had jumped to 34 percent, which includes e-cigarettes.

Here are some facts about electronic cigarettes: they have risen in use from nothing a decade ago to being the most common form of nicotine addiction among high school kids; kids who “vape” are twice as likely to become cigarette smokers than kids who do not vape; vapes can have up to twice the amount of nicotine as a traditional cigarette, which makes them more addictive; many kids who vape do not know that they contain nicotine, or that nicotine is addictive; 80 percent of people who become addicted to nicotine do so before their 18th birthday; kids often get their vapes and cigarettes from their older friends who are old enough to buy them legally; the only drug more addictive than nicotine is heroin.

With the epidemic of nicotine addiction raging through Vermont high schools, people are taking action. The South Burlington School Board asked the governor and state legislature to raise the age to buy cigarettes and vapes from 18 to 21. The Vermont Senate recently passed this bill, and it has a good chance of becoming law. Vermont Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has spoken up for this change, and has worked hard to inform Vermonters of the new vaping epidemic. South Burlington High School Principal Patrick Burke has also testified to the legislature in support of a ban on online vape sales, because many kids get around age limits by buying them over the internet. If you would like your opinion on the issue to be heard, please contact your legislators.

Keeping nicotine away from kids until age 21 would reduce the negative impact that nicotine has on the growing mind. The last part of the brain to mature is the prefrontal cortex (right behind your forehead) which develops all the way to age 25. This part of the brain is responsible for decision making and impulse control. There are also the well-known health and economic reasons that have been discussed for decades, so those details are not included here.

Marijuana has gained more public acceptance in recent years, but that does not mean that it has become less harmful. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 32 percent of Vermont high school seniors have used marijuana in the past month, which is above the goal of 20 percent set by the Department of Health’s Healthy Vermonters 2020 report.

This article would not be complete if it didn’t discuss the opioid epidemic. This epidemic may not affect as many kids as the vaping epidemic, but observations of recent news is important. In October 2018, the Seven Days newspaper published the obituary of a young woman who died of her opioid addiction, which was shared by many across the internet. In February 2019 the newspaper published another article about the opioid epidemic and featured a recovering addict. What these two have in common is that they started using opioids when they were in high school, and got them from the medicine cabinets of older family members. Could these two have been saved from addiction if the painkillers were kept out of reach to a teenager? Maybe. The lesson here is that opioid medications are extremely dangerous in the wrong hands, and should be treated with much more care than a bottle of aspirin.

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