Telehealth (or telemedicine) is a powerful resource with innovative uses. It has become a staple asset in the medical field as more ways to communicate virtually have become increasingly important. COVID-19 has created an even stronger demand for telehealth resources that keep patients and doctors connected and deliver healthcare to the public. Telehealth provides a wide range of benefits, including public health information dissemination, accessible health education, preventative healthcare, diagnosis and health management, and the list continues to grow. Youth vaping is a major health concern and there is substantial potential for telehealth interventions to support youth on this topic. Public health professionals, healthcare providers, and experts alike recognize the potential for telehealth communication that can aid the fight against youth vaping.
Why is telehealth so important?
Telehealth saves people money, makes healthcare more accessible, and enables widespread health information and education dissemination. Telehealth makes it easier than ever for people to stay connected with information and resources needed to keep themselves healthy and informed, and has social and economic benefits that can’t be ignored. For example, one study revealed that over 90% of telehealth users surveyed said that telehealth lowered their healthcare costs. Telehealth also supports those in rural areas and those with physical conditions that would otherwise restrict them from accessing care. Telehealth offers more flexibility and inclusivity for healthcare workers and consumers than traditional medical care allows.
Telehealth is an important healthcare tool, but how can it be used to enhance tobacco control efforts? Telehealth has long been recognized in the tobacco control field as a supportive element for those who are attempting to quit the use of tobacco products. There is extensive support for the positive relationship between telehealth resources and tobacco cessation among adults.
How can telehealth combat youth vaping?
The innovative uses and potential for telehealth to support youth vaping prevention and cessation is less clear than the evidence for adults.Combined with telehealth enhancements, educational resources that help fight youth vaping can widen the reach of youth vaping prevention efforts and enable communities to protect youth. There are several examples of how telehealth can support anti-vaping interventions. For example, virtual telehealth warnings have proven effectiveness at dissuading vape use. One tobacco control study revealed that e-cigarette health warnings via text message and pictorial images motivated users to quit vaping and discouraged study participants from smoking both e-cigarettes and cigarettes. Efforts like this one can combat the harmful effects of Big Tobacco advertising that have contributed to over 5 million youth vapers. The Truth Initiative used text messaging interventions in their vaping cessation program launched in 2019 "This is Quitting." The program demonstrated success, with more than half of program users reporting reduced use or complete cessation two weeks after their intended quit date.
Social media can also be a powerful telehealth tool to fight youth vaping. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook have all been used by health professionals and organizations as a platform to deliver anti-vaping messaging to vape users. TikTok- a popular social media app among youth ages 16-24- enables users to make and edit short videos meant to entertain. Interestingly, TikTok has become a popular telehealth tool to deliver health and wellness information on various health topics. The Truth Initiative used TikTok as part of their “This is Quitting” marketing efforts. Several physicians have also begun using TikTok to reach youth vapers to educate teens on the risks of vaping. Even physicians have started using TikTok as a way to reach youth patients. Dr. Rose Marie Leslie uses the platform to inform youth about the dangers of vaping. Some of her videos include images of x-rays from patients' lungs damaged by vaping.
Telehealth has myriad benefits that positively enhance vaping prevention and cessation efforts among youth. While telehealth has become a vital resource in the continuously developing COVID-19 pandemic, consider how telehealth can enhance ongoing tobacco control efforts- including vaping prevention and cessation among youth. Tobacco control professionals should recognize these benefits and develop resources that place telehealth at the forefront of the anti-vaping movement. For example, AVOID- an online vaping prevention program for youth, uses education and technology to reach youth and teach them about the risks of vaping. Efforts such as this one are a modern alternative to drug use prevention and education that have a strong chance of persuading youth.
It is up to public health professionals to create anti-vaping resources for youth that utilize modern telehealth technology to illuminate the latest vaping science and inform youth about associated health risks. More telehealth resources are needed to equip youth with the skills needed to avoid and quit vaping. The future of tobacco control depends on our ability to create telehealth resources that successfully prevent new tobacco users and help current users in their attempts to quit.