It’s never too early to talk with your kids about the dangers of tobacco, especially given the explosive growth of vaping. February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, a great time to address the issue.
Here’s why there’s reason for concern: The use of e-cigarettes among Illinois high schoolers increased by 45% between 2016 and 2018. About 28% of U.S. youth have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, according to a survey the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in September.
Tobacco products – including e-cigarettes – can increase the risk of cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, oral cancer and even death. Tobacco use often starts in high school. In Illinois, about 4,800 teenagers a year will start smoking daily.
New state law and federal ban
Recognizing the dangers, the state of Illinois last summer raised the age for purchasing tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21 years old.
E-cigarettes, in particular, can be appealing to youth with fun flavors like blueberry cheesecake and gummy bear. A federal ban took effect Thursday, Feb. 6 prohibiting the sale of most flavored, cartridge-based e-cigarettes, with an exception of menthol and tobacco flavors.
“These new state and federal measures aim to provide some protections for our children,” said Dr. Sheila Strock, vice president, dental services and science officer at Delta Dental of Illinois. “But parents must remain vigilant in talking with kids early and often about ways to refuse tobacco.”
How tobacco affects oral health
Tobacco products can damage oral health and cause tooth loss. Smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco can make people more susceptible to tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer.
“We now know that vaping can be just as dangerous as smoking regular cigarettes,” Strock said. “Using e-cigarettes increases the bacteria in your mouth and elevates your risk of oral health problems ranging from dry mouth and bad breath to gum disease, mouth and throat irritation, bone loss, tooth loss and cavities.”
Beyond negatively impacting oral health, at least 187 Illinoisans have experienced lung illness from vaping and five have died, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Most of those affected by vaping-related illnesses have been men with a median age of 22, but the youngest was 13 years old.
Tips for talking with your kids about the dangers of tobacco
Start talking about the dangers of tobacco with your children at age 5 and continue discussions throughout high school.
Set a good example by not smoking yourself. Then, work with your kids on what they might say if they are pressured to try e-cigarettes or other tobacco products. It’s helpful to role-play so they know how to act before a situation arises. Here are some facts to help your discussion:
- Smoking can hurt your health and potentially cause serious problems ranging from cavities to gum disease, oral cancer, tooth loss and even death.
- Vaping may seem like a safe way to fit in with friends, but tobacco products are dangerous, especially as your brain, lungs and heart are still developing.
- It’s easy to get hooked, and it’s an expensive habit. Tobacco products contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug. Money saved by avoiding tobacco products can instead be used on clothes, electronics or doing something both healthy and fun.
- Damaging your smile by using tobacco can negatively impact how you feel about yourself and interact with others.
About Delta Dental of Illinois
Delta Dental is the national dental benefits leader covering 1 in 3 Americans who have dental insurance. Delta Dental of Illinois is one of 39 member companies that make up the national Delta Dental system. Based in Naperville, Illinois, Delta Dental of Illinois provides dental benefit programs to more than 6,000 Illinois companies and covers 2 million individuals, employees and family members nationwide. Delta Dental of Illinois is committed to improving oral health in our community and furthers this commitment through the work of Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation.