The following letter was submitted by Dr. Linda Vassmer, M.D.
November 15th marks the annual Great American Smoke Out. This one-day event is an opportunity for Americans to stop smoking. There is a myriad of tools available for the person who wants to quit the cigarette habit, such as cell phone apps, cigarette cost calculators, quizzes and videos. While mostly geared toward adults, people of any age, even teens, can use the same tools to help them quit.
We’ve done a good job of telling our kids about the dangers of cigarette smoke. Only 10 percent of District 207 high school students smoke cigarettes regularly, according to the 2012 Illinois Youth Survey. In fact, cigarette smoking is at its lowest point since 2004 when local student use was first tracked.
Unfortunately, we haven’t done such a good job of telling our kids about the risks of marijuana smoke. The same 2012 Illinois Youth Survey shows that 18 percent of high schoolers smoke marijuana on a regular basis and their perception of harm from marijuana is significantly lower than from cigarettes.
Treatment centers that operate education programs for teens caught with marijuana concur with survey results. Sarah Stollenwerk, Substance Abuse Therapist at Maine Center in Park Ridge, says, “Kids’ (and parents’) perception of harm seems to be very low, definitely lower than the risk of harm from alcohol, especially in regard to perceived differences in impairment. Kids don’t think THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, impairs them while driving, for example, to the same level that alcohol does.”
Studies show that marijuana cigarettes can have as many as 200 chemicals in them. In addition, since marijuana smoke is inhaled more deeply and held in the lungs for a longer period of time, it causes comparable damage as tobacco smoke, such as respiratory problems, coughs, more frequent chest illnesses and increased risk of lung infections.
As a pediatrician, I routinely ask about my young patients’ use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. I would like to see all pediatricians and family physicians screen for substance use as a regular part of annual physicals. This would identify kids with high risk factors for use and those who have already used harmful substances, and get them the help they need to avoid addiction.
I support Maine Community Youth Assistance Foundation (MCYAF) and their work to reduce substance use in Maine Township.
I hope all parents and adults will join me in using the Great American Smoke Out on November 15th as an opportunity to talk with kids about the dangers of marijuana smoke as well as cigarette smoke. Your conversation could start with this: Smoke is smoke.