E-Cigarette Use In Teens

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Electronic Cigarettes & Vape Pens: An Overview of the New Trend in Smoking

E-cigarettes, known as e-cigs, electronic cigs, or electronic cigarettes, are the newest generation of traditional cigarettes with a few primary differences: e-cigs are re-usable and trade the characteristic cigarette smoke for a vaporized liquid compound. E-cigarettes (and their sister product “vape pens”) are often seen as the lesser of two evils. However, new research and increased popularity among younger demographics are beginning to prove that e-cigarettes and vape pens may now be a much more insidious problem than their smoky counterparts.

In a scenario that feels like a flashback to a time when cigarettes were a cool kid staple, e-cigarettes have staked their popularity claim with teenagers and young adults. Vaping—the verb invented for e-cig and vape pen use because of the vapor that is released during use—has become hugely popular with the adolescent demographic, a highly problematic trend that is often overlooked by parents, schools, and communities at large.

Teen Smoking Trends: E-Cigarette & Vape Pen Use in Minors

A recent study[1] by the CDC and the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) found that, between 2013 and 2014, e-cigarette use in middle and high school students tripled. While that in and of itself is troubling, another study[2] found that e-cigarettes are frequently a gateway product; teens who have tried e-cigs or vape pens more than twice as likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes than those who haven’t.

The primary reason for this progression is the similarities between the chemical content of e-cigs/vape pens and traditional cigarettes. The main ingredient in e-cigarettes and vape pens (and the reason why users keep coming back for more) is the nicotine content, which is extremely addictive and can have numerous negative health consequences.

While nicotine alone is an inherently harmful drug, the effects on teenagers are magnified exponentially. According to CDC[3] Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”

E-Cigarette & Vape Pen Marketing: Targeting Teenagers

Often billed as a safe alternative to cigarettes, e-cigarette and vape pen manufacturers have faced increased backlash and scrutiny in recent years over claims that they directly target teenagers and adolescents. Marketing for e-cigarettes and vape pens is often found on youth-oriented TV channels and across social media sites, and many e-cig companies use celebrity spokespeople popular with the younger generation. A study by RTI International[4] reported that young adult exposure to electronic cigarette and vape pen advertisements increased by 321 percent from 2011 to 2013. What’s even more important to note though is that this study analyzed only television, and if it were to include internet advertising, the figures would likely be even greater.

Another major way that e-cigarettes and vape pens are being marketed to youth is through the flavoring of the product itself. While some e-cigs come unflavored and unscented, the majority of companies peddle sweet flavor offerings, such as cotton candy, watermelon, and bubble gum, which are seen as particularly attractive to youths. In fact, the FDA has banned[5] tobacco companies from manufacturing flavored regular cigarettes specifically because of their associated appeal to minors.

Governmental Action on E-Cigarette & Vape Pen Use in Young Adults

At this point, most states have laws prohibiting distributors from selling e-cigarettes and vape pens to minors under age 18 (though some states have upped the minimum age to 19). However, while cigarettes and other similar forms of tobacco are currently under strict regulatory control by the FDA, the same oversight does not yet exist for electronic cigarettes and vape pens.

The primary issue affecting restriction and regulation is the relative novelty of the product itself. E-cigarettes and vape pens are fairly new products—the concept of an electronic cigarette was invented[6] in Beijing in 2003. Thus, while in recent years a significant amount of research has been conducted on e-cigarettes and vape pens, they haven’t been as extensively studied and investigated as cigarettes. A quick search for the term “e-cigarette”[7] on PubMed – a collection of biomedical literature by the National Center for Biotechnology Information[8] (NCBI) – returns 1,800 study results. However, over 98% of those results were published in the last 10 years. Particularly crucial to research into e-cigarettes will be longitudinal studies, which would evaluate the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on the human body.

Taking a Stand against Teen E-Cig & Vape Pen Use

Many teens falsely believe that e-cigarettes are safe and non-addictive due to widespread misinformation and deceptive marketing. Therefore, one of the best ways to combat e-cigarette and vape pen use in teens is through education. Parents should talk to their teenagers about the risks and dangers associated with e-cig use. Schools and community organizations should partner to create educational programs and initiatives. Anti-tobacco coalitions need to expand their marketing campaigns to include (or perhaps shift their primary focus to) e-cigarettes and vape pens.

Though the campaign against traditional smoking has been a long process, it has been a hugely successful one as well. Since 1975, when teen smoking hovered just below a staggering 30%, cigarette use has steadily declined[9] to an all-time low under 7.5% in 2014.

This is evidence that it’s possible to reverse the dangerous trend of e-cigarette and vape pen use in teenagers, but only if communities band together to take a stand.

[1] “E-cigarette use Triples among Middle and High School Students in Just One Year.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0416-e-cigarette-use.html on March 17, 2016.

[2] “Longitudinal Study of E-Cigarette Use and Onset of Cigarette Smoking among High School Students in Hawai’i.” BMJ Publishing Group, Ltd. Retrieved from http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2016/01/05/tobaccocontrol-2015-052705.full on March 17, 2016.

[3] “E-cigarette use Triples among Middle and High School Students in Just One Year.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0416-e-cigarette-use.html on March 17, 2016.

Duke, Jennifer C., Youn O. Lee, et al. “Exposure to Electronic Cigarette Television Advertisements among Youth and Young Adults.” RTI International. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2014/05/27/peds.2014-0269.full.pdf on March 17, 2016.

“What are FDA’s Regulations for Flavored Tobacco?” U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“E-Cigarette History.” Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association. Retrieved from http://casaa.org/E-cigarette_History.html on March 17, 2016.

“Search Results: E-Cigarette.” National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=e-cigarette on March 17, 2016.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ on March 17, 2016.

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