The trouble with e-cigarettes

Growing up I was a big fan of bubble gum cigarettes – basically a pink bubble gum stick coated with powdered sugar and wrapped in a faux cigarette wrapper. After blowing intensely into the gum, you’d usually produce a small puff of “smoke” before unwrapping the gum and chewing it. My fascination with these bubble gum cigarettes was more a result of my love of sweets than a latent desire to smoke.

Today’s youth are also being tempted to emulate this very dangerous habit by e-cigarette manufacturers. E-cigarettes are cigarette-shaped devices used to deliver nicotine to the user by way of vapors instead of smoke. They are often marketed as a smoking cecession device and as a healthier option to cigarettes. The first e-cigarettes were introduced in 2007.

“E-cigarettes are still fairly new and there have been a few concerns about them,” says Dr. Adelola Ashaye who does smoking cessation counseling. “I generally don’t recommend them as I think additional research is warranted.”

Sage advice, but advice that is being ignored by many young people as evidence is mounting that e-cigarettes often serve as a gateway to other tobacco products. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “E-cigarette experimentation and recent use doubled among U.S. middle and high school students during 2011–2012, resulting in an estimated 1.78 million students having ever used e-cigarettes as of 2012.”

According to the CDC report almost 10 percent of these students who reported using e-cigarettes had never smoked traditional cigarettes before. In other words, they were introduced to smoking by e-cigarettes.

ecigspic
Just because e-cigarettes aren’t traditional cigarettes doesn’t mean they’re automatically safe (Click the graphic to see a full version)

The American Heart Association (AHA) is taking no chances and just called for state and federal laws and regulations that would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors as part of its recently released policy statement on e-cigarettes. “There is a concern among public health advocates that e-cigarettes could increase nicotine addiction and serve as a gateway for the use of tobacco products, particularly among youth” the AHA writes.

Youth in my day had to deal with cavities and being picked last for kickball if they chose to imitate the nasty habit of smoking by chewing too much bubble gum. However, today’s youth who choose to partake in this activity could be facing more severe consequences.

The CDC report says that increased use of e-cigarettes among youth “is a serious concern because the overall impact of e-cigarette use on public health remains uncertain. In youths, concerns include the potential negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development, as well as the risk for nicotine addiction and initiation of the use of conventional cigarettes or other tobacco products.”

Increasing numbers of teens are being introduced to smoking via e-cigarettes Click To Tweet

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has oversight over any tobacco product in the United States, e-cigarettes fall outside of its jurisdiction as they contain no actual tobacco. As a result tobacco companies that manufacture e-cigarettes “have been rapidly expanding using aggressive marketing messages similar to those used to promote cigarettes in the 1950s and 1960s” according to a recent scientific review on e-cigarettes in Circulation Magazine. “E-cigarette advertising is on television and radio in many countries that have long banned similar advertising for cigarettes and other tobacco products and may be indirectly promoting smoking conventional cigarettes.”

In other words, tobacco companies are coming for you and your kids with clever marketing campaigns and by offering e-cigarettes in flavors like cotton candy and yep – bubble gum.

“It may be some time before we fully know the risks of using e-cigarettes, but it’s not too early to sit down with your kids to discuss the potential harm in using e-cigarettes and cigarettes, too,” Dr. Ashaye added.

For more information and tips on quitting, look to  our Kicking The Habit Pinterest board!

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Reviewed by Dr. Adelola Ashaye