The Problem: E-Cigarettes and Teens
According to a new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens and E-cigarettes are directly responsible for a broader increase in youth tobacco use. As a result, teen E-cigarette use has reversed a decades long trend of diminished smoking among minors.
New Cause for Alarm
There have been concerns about teens and e-cigarette use in the medical community for years, but the CDC’s new report makes clear how pervasive—and how damaging—teen tobacco use has become.
Additional data made public by the CDC demonstrates that not only has e-cigarette use become common, but also that its use and popularity are both increasing. One popular e-cigarette brand, called JUUL, has grown more than seven-fold between 2016 and 2017. And while JUUL is one of the most popular e-cigarette brands, other e-cigarette devices and types have also enjoyed significant increases in sales.
Because teens are among the largest and most vulnerable groups driving this increase in sales, medical experts are concerned about the long-term health impacts linked to teens and e-cigarettes.
What Are E-Cigarettes?
E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, are a somewhat novel nicotine product that, ostensibly, creates a safer way to smoke. Originally developed to give tobaccos users an easier way to quit smoking, the e-cigarette devices themselves have been around for years, though their widespread use is a relatively recent development.
Rather than smoking a tobacco product, e-cigarette users rely on a device that turns nicotine liquids into an inhalable vapor (hence the slang term, “vaping”). In theory, this would allow an e-cigarette user to control how much nicotine is fed into the bloodstream via inhalation.
The health impacts of e-cigarettes compared to, for example, traditional cigarettes, are not particularly well understood at this point—though by no means does that mean that vaping should be considered safe. Several studies have shown that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes and can be a useful tool in helping smokers to quit. But teens who are vaping are not already smokers, and there are real health concerns around nicotine use.
The Harm in E-Cigarettes
The newly published findings from the CDC are alarming, in part, because youth are extraordinarily vulnerable to the detrimental effects of nicotine use. Even relatively small amounts of nicotine can be profoundly addictive and cause significant developmental complications in youth.
It’s not as though e-cigarette use is good for adults, either. The U.S. Surgeon General and the Food and Drug Administration have both made moves to restrict e-cigarette use and combat the erroneous notion that vaping does not impact one’s health.
But it might be too little, too late.
Increasing Rates Among Teens
JUUL, the e-cigarette shaped like a USB drive for easy concealment in a school environment, is easily the most popular brand among teens. JUUL also has the highest nicotine content of any e-cigarette manufacturer, underlining the heightened danger experienced by more and more teens across the country. According to the CDC’s report, almost five million middle and high schoolers were consistent e-cigarette users in 2018.
That number was only 3.6 million in 2017. That increase is alarming, but it also fits with the trends. JUUL sold 2.2 million devices in 2016, but 16.2 million in 2017. That’s a staggering increase.
Clearly, the wide availability of these products is part of the problem. Roughly 74% of teens who use JUUL reported purchasing the device from a brick and mortar “vape shop.” Additionally, many e-cigarette manufacturers, such as JUUL, offer a wide variety of flavors that would certainly appeal to pre-teens and teens, from “cream” to “mango.”
Pediatricians and medical experts are concerned that, without increased oversight and regulation, e-cigarette manufacturers (some of which are now owned by tobacco companies) will continue to prey on America’s youth. The nicotine in these products can significantly damage the developing adolescent brain.
Ignoring the problem hasn’t seemed to work. E-cigarettes simply become more and more popular every year. More teens are vaping and those teens are vaping more often than they used to.
One proposed solution is to raise the age requirement to purchase and partake in e-cigarettes to 21, as many states have already done with other tobaccos products. As part of a more comprehensive and evidence-driven regulatory approach, this could help diminish teen vaping and get the relationship between teens and e-cigarettes moving in the right direction. Non-action is no longer an option.
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