MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 30th of January, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s time now for Washington Wednesday. Today, the public-health implications of tobacco use.
Smoking is not new—it dates back centuries. But throughout the first half of the 20th century, the number of Americans who picked up the habit exploded.
AUDIO: In the history of the world, no non-essential habit ever got so entrenched so fast. Seventy million Americans smoke.
REICHARD: Amid that explosion came a series of studies on smoking. Then came the king of them all. In January 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry issued a report on smoking and health.
AUDIO: In short, the committee says if you smoke cigarettes, you increase your chances of dying early. The sooner you start, the more you smoke, the more you inhale, the worse your chances are.
EICHER: Over the last 55 years, no issue has drawn more attention from U.S. surgeons general than smoking has. And that emphasis continues today.
Just last month, Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued a warning on the dangers of teen vaping.
ADVISORY: Did you know that nicotine and e-cigarettes can harm brain development? It’s a fact. Did you know that the nicotine in e-cigarettes can prime the brain for addition, especially while it’s still growing? It’s a fact.
ADAMS: This is U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams. For more facts about the risks of e-cigarettes, and how to protect our youth, visit e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov.
REICHARD: Here now to discuss this issue with me is the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams.
Surgeon General Adams, thank you so much for joining us today.
ADAMS: I’m really glad to be here, Mary.
REICHARD: Why issue the vaping warning now?
ADAMS: Well, the fact is that e-cigarette use amongst 12th graders has doubled in just the past year. When you look at the monitoring, the future data—which along with the national youth tobacco survey data really encouraged us to put out this advisory that we put out in December—78 percent of high schoolers have increased in e-cigarette usage and 48 percent increase among middle schoolers.
And here’s what’s even more shocking: one-third of our young people who are vaping are vaping marijuana. So it’s not just about the dangerous nicotine that’s in these products that are dangerous particularly for young and developing brains. But one-third of our kids being exposed to marijuana, that’s just not something that I can accept as a parent, as a doctor, or as a public health advocate.
REICHARD: And what is it about vaping that is particularly harmful to young people?
ADAMS: Well, many of these products, particularly the one most commonly used by young people, which is Juul, contain nicotine by definition. And we know that nicotine can affect learning, memory and attention and it can prime your brain for future addiction to other substances.
And, again, we’re talking about young people here, which is different than adults and the young brain which is still developing up until the age of about 25, 26. Exposure to nicotine can prime your brain for addiction to other substances down the road. This is a significant risk to our nation’s youth, but what’s most important is that it’s an avoidable risk.
And, again, it’s why I’m highlighting the risk of e-cigarette to youth and young people and encouraging parents, teachers, and communities to take note.
REICHARD: And what response do you have to those naysayers, and there always seem to be some, who say, well, the science isn’t in yet, and compared to other things kids could be doing, this isn’t so bad.
ADAMS: Well, there’s two parts of this discussion. One part is about harm reduction and adults. And what I mean when I say harm reduction is in an adult smoker, we know if they can completely switch over to e-cigarettes, then it’s going to be safer for them than if they continue to smoke traditional combustible cigarettes. But that’s completely different than use initiation.
And, Mary, I’m a believer. Romans 6:16 tells us that God doesn’t want us to be slave to anyone or anything. Therefore, as a parent, I feel it’s my obligation to teach my kids and to encourage the nation’s young people to avoid being a slave to nicotine for the rest of their lives.
Matthew 22:37 says we should love the Lord with all our heart, our soul, and our mind. Well, you can’t love the Lord with your whole mind if your mind is occupied trying to get your nicotine fix.
So, again, this is an avoidable risk for our young people. It presents a danger and the science is clear. No young person should be using e-cigarettes.
REICHARD: And what advice would you have for parents?
ADAMS: Well, I call on all parents to learn about the different shapes and talk to your kids about why e-cigarettes are harmful for them. We can’t do it over the radio, but one of the things I do is show folks what the devices look like, and they don’t look like a traditional cigarette. It looks more like a USB, a toy, something that you would plug into a computer, and it makes it easy for kids to conceal these devices. So, just learn what these look like.
Have a conversation at the dinner table with your children. I’ve done that with my three children—age 14, 13 and 9. Just asked them if they’d been exposed, and it was a shock to me that even my 9-year-old knew what e-cigarettes were and has been exposed to them at school. Fortunately, they aren’t using yet, but again, it’s shocking. All the way down to middle school and even elementary school kids are being exposed to these products.
So parents, go to surgeongeneral.gov, and that’s my website, and it’s got a tip sheet for parents to help them become educated and to help them have a conversation with the young people in their life about the dangers of e-cigarettes. And, again, how to help young people quit if they are addicted to nicotine, because, unfortunately, we already have young people out there who are addicted to these products.
REICHARD: Unrelated to e-cigarettes, Dr. Adams, I wonder as surgeon general, what has been a joy in your job and what’s been a frustration in your job?
ADAMS: [Laughter] Good questions, Mary. Well, you know, as a doctor and I actually still practice one day a week at Walter Reed Medical Center. I really find great fulfillment, but I only can help one person at a time. I really found the job as surgeon general to be really fulfilling, because I’m doing something that can change the future for millions of people at a time, including my own kids. With my e-cigarette advisory, by helping lift up the opioid epidemic, I’m really changing the environment for the kids who are out there now and for future generations. And that’s been a true joy in a true blessing for me.
When you asked the question about what’s the frustration, the division and divisiveness in our society is really frustrating to me. We’re on the heels of a Martin Luther King celebration and my favorite quote from MLK is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
I feel that if we really tried to live like Christians, if we really tried to to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, we would be in a much better place, but, unfortunately, I think far too many people out there are talking the talk, but not walking the walk. And I just pray each and every day that I have the strength to try to walk that walk.
REICHARD: Wonderful. Wonderful. I am so glad to hear you’re a believer. Dr. Jerome Adams is the Surgeon General of the United States. Thank you so much for joining us.
ADAMS: Mary, thank you. And, again, I encourage your audience to go to surgeongeneral.gov. for more details. I love interacting with people, and we’ve all got a role to play if we’re going to create a healthier, safer, and more believing society.