— The National Youth Tobacco Survey found the use of e-cigarettes among both high school and middle school students doubled from 2011 to 2012 to 10 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively.
The survey also revealed 76 percent of teenagers using e-cigarettes also smoke regular cigarettes.
“We are worried that e-cigarettes will help kids overcome their inhibitions and re-normalize smoking and undermine the progress we have made (in reducing youth smoking),” said Dr. Tim McAfee, of the Centers for Disease Control. “There is no upside to teens being exposed to e-cigarettes.”
This trend is especially troubling for Indiana, which has the highest rate (14 percent) of 18-25 year olds and the 11th worst rate (7 percent) of 12-17 year olds who started smoking in the past year.
E-cigarettes use a battery-powered heating element to transform liquid containing nicotine into an inhalable vapor, often flavored with fruit, mint or chocolate. E-cigarettes look like a regular cigarette or cigar, although some models look like a pen or even a USB thumb drive to mask their true identity.
Bipartisan legislation has made it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone 18 or younger. Despite the law, e-cigarettes are still sold online, increasing their availability to youth. A national organization battling teen smoking notes that online sales benefit from marketing using celebrities and You Tube videos depicting e-cigarettes as hip and glamorous. One publicity campaign, for example, includes a cartoon pitchman named, “Mr. Cool.”
“This explosion of e-cigarette marketing threatens to undo decades of efforts to deglamorize smoking to kids,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, issued a statement, “Electronic cigarettes should not be sold or marketed to minors.” The association also says e-cigarettes are safer for adults than tobacco cigarettes, providing nicotine without the toxins and chemicals present in regular smokes. The industry group says getting nicotine through an e-cigarette is no different than a person who enjoys a cup of coffee for a dose of caffeine.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the safety of e-cigarettes has not been verified in clinical trials. The FDA this month is expected to propose the first-ever federal regulations of e-cigarettes, while the CDC warns the teen brain is uniquely susceptible to addiction, and nicotine is harmful to brain development.
Parents need to remain aware of the growing usage of e-cigarettes by teenagers. Ask your kids if they are seeing or hearing about e-cigarettes at school, from their friends or online. Continue discussing the dangers of smoking. Remind them that the marketing of e-cigarettes as hip and glamorous is false and misleading.
While smoking is advancing through technology, old fashioned communication from parents and other caring adults still provides the best chance for preventing youth from lighting up.
Bill Stanczykiewicz, a former Anderson radio sports announcer, is president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.