Of­fi­cials warn of nico­tine tooth­picks



E-cig­a­rettes, vapes, Juuls, cig­a­rettes and cigars. And now there’s some­thing else to worry about.

Pub­lic health of­fi­cials are warn­ing par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors about a new to­bacco prod­uct teens may be abus­ing — nico­tine tooth­picks.

The tooth­picks look just like reg­u­lar tooth­picks, but the of­ten fruit or cin­na­mon­fla­vored sticks un­der brand names such as Ni­coPix, ZipPik and Pixo­tine are packed with more nico­tine than tra­di­tional cig­a­rettes.

The tooth­picks are of­ten in­fused or coated with nico­tine and can have as much as 3 mg of nico­tine, com­pared to the about 1.5 mg of nico­tine most smok­ers in­hale from a cig­a­rette.

Nico­tine is a dan­ger­ously ad­dic­tive sub­stance, and youth are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble, Chat­tanooga-Hamil­ton County Health De­part­ment of­fi­cials said.

“Nico­tine is highly ad­dic­tive and a lot of youth don’t think that’s go­ing to be [them], but what might seem as a tooth­pick here or there can be harm­ful,” said Paula Col­lier, to­bacco preven­tion co­or­di­na­tor and pub­lic health ed­u­ca­tor for the de­part­ment. “Our main mes­sage is to just en­cour­age par­ents and teach­ers and other peo­ple who work with youth to be con­stantly vig­i­lant, be­cause there are a lot of prod­ucts that youth might not un­der­stand.”

Nico­tine can be one of the hard­est ad­dic­tions to beat, said Dr. John Heise, di­rec­tor of ado­les­cent medicine at Er­langer Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal.

“We do know that you can get ad­dicted pretty quickly to it,” he said. “There are some peo­ple who say it’s eas­ier to get off co­caine or heroin than nico­tine.”

It is also es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous to chil­dren and teens be­cause their brains are still de­vel­op­ing, ex­perts said. Nico­tine can have even more harm­ful ef­fects on a de­vel­op­ing brain than an adult’s, they said.

Though tra­di­tional smok­ing is down among today’s teens, the use of e-cig­a­rettes has in­creased and teens are ex­per­i­ment­ing with other sub­stances that might be con­cealed in can­dies, gum­mies or lol­lipops.

Col­lier warns that fruit-fla­vored and can­dy­type sub­stances are es­pe­cially at­trac­tive to teens.

“Gummy bears may be candy or may not be candy … same as lol­lipops and other things, that tra­di­tion­ally were what they were at face value,” she said. Col­lier en­cour­ages par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors to be vig­i­lant and pay at­ten­tion to new habits an ado­les­cent may have de­vel­oped.

Heise said the use of these prod­ucts may seem “cool” to teenagers, who are already prone to ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and exploration.

“Peo­ple might think it’s cool, but they re­ally are toy­ing with some­thing that can be very dam­ag­ing to their health long term, can cost a lot of money and can make them less at­trac­tive to the op­po­site sex,” Heise said.

Hamil­ton County Schools of­fi­cials say they have not been made aware of nico­tine tooth­picks be­ing a trend or prob­lem in lo­cal schools, but most to­bacco-re­lated or non-il­le­gal­sub­stance in­frac­tions are han­dled at the school level.

Bradley Jack­son, cam­pus dis­ci­pline spe­cial­ist for the dis­trict, said they asked prin­ci­pals across the dis­trict about nico­tine tooth­picks and did not hear about any dis­ci­plinere­lated in­ci­dents.

The school dis­trict in­sti­tuted a to­bacco-free policy last year, and the use or pos­ses­sion of il­le­gal drugs on a school cam­pus is con­sid­ered a zero-tol­er­ance of­fense by the Hamil­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

“As of right now, each school ad­min­is­tra­tor or prin­ci­pal has the ju­ris­dic­tion to han­dle to­bacco use as they see fit,” Jack­son said. “Here at [the] cen­tral of­fice, we only hear of dis­ci­pline sit­u­a­tions that war­rant a sus­pen­sion that is more than 10 days or in­volves a a con­trolled sub­stance.”

For par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors con­cerned a young per­son is strug­gling with nico­tine or to­bacco use, there are a va­ri­ety of re­sources avail­able, of­fi­cials say. Mo­ti­va­tional in­ter­view­ing, sim­i­lar to coun­sel­ing, can be very suc­cess­ful, Heise said. But teenagers need to be mo­ti­vated to quit, he added.

Er­langer’s Divi­sion of Ado­les­cent Medicine is de­vel­op­ing re­sources for fam­i­lies with teens strug­gling with ad­dic­tion and plans to launch clin­ics ad­dress­ing the topic in com­ing months.

Heise also ad­vises par­ents speak with their own med­i­cal providers.

Con­tact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mman­[email protected]­free press.com or 423-757-6592. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @me­man­grum.

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