E-cigarettes on the rise, especially for teens

By Michelle Silver

A few weeks ago over spring break in southern California I was struck by a friend of a friend smoking an electric cigarette.  His smoke session topic of discussion was what he should call his new business, an e-cigarette shop located in San Diego.  Just looking around the street we were standing on I saw a couple of these smoke-less smoke shops, a sight that was rather unfamiliar to me living in Ann Arbor.  However, e-cigarettes are on the rise, especially among adolescents. Between 2011-2012 e-cigarette usage among 6th-12th graders increased  from 3.3-6.8%, with the total number of students having ever tried an e-cigarette by 2012 topping  1.78 million (CDC).

The e-cigarette argument is a loaded one; on one hand e-cigarettes provide past smokers with a safer way to continue the motions of smoking and maintain the nicotine fix with what are thought to be many less harmful effects.  However, e-cigarettes are becoming widely available with much more lenient regulations.  As a result, they are ending up in the hands of many middle and high school students.  Many long-term cigarette smokers reported starting their cigarette habit when they were young, so will these teens become life-long e-cigarette smokers?

Regulations of e-cigarettes are virtually non-existent and variable by state.  There are no requirements about package information about what ingredients are used (including low levels of carcinogens which have been found), and age restrictions are often not enforced.   Despite controversies about who should be able to buy them, where they can smoke them, and information about the e-cigarette being made available to the consumer, most people would agree that harmless or not, youth should not be smoking them.

Perhaps more efforts should be put towards marketing these devices for serious cigarette addicts instead of teens.  Flavors like gummy bear and cookies and cream are a deliberate attempt to market towards kids and teens, which I don’t find acceptable.   Among teens in the CDC 2011-2012 study, 7.2% claimed to be non-cigarette smokers, but e-smokers.  More efforts need to be put forth to make sure these devices are marketed to the people who may truly benefit from them, instead of kids and teens. Additionally, since the effects of e-cigarette smoking are not entirely understood, more preventive efforts should be taken, especially with the lives of younger people in mind, before the potentially harmful effects are irreversible.

For more general information visit: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/12/health/e-cigarettes-debate/index.html or information on new Michigan legislation regulating e-cigarettes visit: http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2014/03/bills_banning_e-cigarette_sale.html

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