THE BLOG
11/20/2014 06:55 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

On This Great American Smokeout: Let's Finish It

Rudyard Kipling once said, "words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." Fast forward to 2014, words are still considered one of the most powerful drugs, and they might be exactly what we need to combat on of the most addictive drugs -- nicotine. Rates of nicotine consumption and tobacco use remain high in the United States, and it's no surprise that with the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes, "vape" has now entered one of the most respected lexicons of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary. The word was first coined in the 1980s when the tobacco industry was experimenting with smokeless cigarettes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a gap existed in the lexicon as a word was needed to differentiate the act of smoking conventional cigarettes from the act of using electronic cigarettes. "Vaping" rose to fill the gap and it has proliferated along with the rising use of e-cigarettes. Now "vape" has been singled out as "word of the year" for 2014.

To those in public health, this is no big surprise. The e-cigarette debate has put the tobacco conversation at the top of the radar, from local communities to college campuses to workplaces, all the way to the halls of Congress. While the product is yet unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), several cities and towns in the U.S. have taken steps to reduce the access of these products to their young people and limit secondhand smoke vapor The data is not sufficient to declare e-cigarettes a game changer that will accelerate the demise of the tobacco epidemic or the gateway to a re-normalization of tobacco in society, but the impact on the public consciousness of the continued scope and scale of the tobacco problem in our country is surely a by-product of the e-cigarette debate.

To the extent that vaping has elevated the debate about how we solve the epidemic, that still claims 480,000 American lives per year, and will risk the lives of 5.6 million kids alive today if we don't do more, maybe it's a good thing and deserves its "word of the year" status.

Today we observe The Great American Smokeout (GASO), an annual effort spearheaded by the American Cancer Society aimed at encouraging smokers to make this day the day they quit tobacco. On this occasion, we do not want vape's "word of the year" status to be a distraction.

Today, there are still 42.1 million Americans who smoke, despite the fact that it is widely acknowledged that tobacco products kill when used as directed. And tobacco companies continue to replenish their user base with youthful new users. We know that 99 percent of all tobacco use begins before the age of 27. Furthermore, data shows that while cigarette use is declining among today's youth, the use of other products like hookah and cigars remain high. Just last week in fact, data from the 2013 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that in e-cigarette use among teens has tripled from 2011-2013. This is why, at Legacy, we are so dedicated to our mission of creating a generation of youth and young adults for whom tobacco is a thing of the past.

So how do we do that? It begins with young people. While products like e-cigarettes may offer current adult smokers a path to quit, nicotine consumption has no place in the lives of young people. Furthermore, since nearly 90 percent of adult smokers begin before they turn 18, if we can keep them from starting, we will have won a major public health victory.

The nation's largest youth anti-tobacco campaign, truth, is working to do just that. We believe that if any generation has the power, influence and ingenuity to end the tobacco epidemic once and for all -- it's this one. truth's "Finish It" campaign empowers this generation of young people to end tobacco use and help save nearly half a million lives in the U.S. alone every year. The renewed campaign, launched in August of this year, connects with this generation's young people on a variety of levels, engaging them using digital and online tools, as well as on television and at the movies.

While the word "vape" may have made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary, what we don't know is the vaping of e-cigarettes is truly safe. As only our truth campaign could say it: "E-cigs are kinda like a guy in a van. He might have ice cream. Or he might kill you. We just don't know yet."

Robin Koval
CEO & President
Legacy

This Great American Smokeout, let's remember that nicotine is a difficult addiction to battle, but there are programs that can help. BecomeAnEX is a free personalized quitting program that can show you a whole new way to quit. The program was designed by Legacy in conjunction with clinical partner, Mayo Clinic. For help, visit www.BecomeAnEX.org.