Electronic cigarettes are designed to help smokers in their step-down process toward cessation, but a recent survey of middle and high schoolers shows the pseudo-cigs could actually be the newest trend.
E-cigarettes are small battery-operated devices that are often shaped like conventional cigarettes, cigars, pipes and even pencils. Each device is filled with a cartridge that turns nicotine, flavorings and “other chemicals” into a vapor mist that is inhaled by the user. In a recent 6-month study by Auckland University in New Zealand, 57 percent of participants who were given e-cigarettes, smoked half as many real cigarettes as before, compared to 41% who received patches. These findings may seem positive for adults who are trying to quit, but another section of the survey contains troubling information about our kids.
Chris Bullen, coordinator of the Auckland survey reported: “It’s also interesting that the people who took part in our study seemed to be much more enthusiastic about e-cigarettes than patches, as evidenced by the far greater proportion of people in both of the e-cigarette groups who said they’d recommend them to family or friends, compared to patches.” It’s this “enthusiasm” that has U.S. Health Officials very concerned. On Thursday the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the number of middle and high school students who have admitted to trying e-cigarettes has doubled. Even more troubling, some students polled said they had never smoked conventional cigarettes, but had tried their electronic counterpart.
“While the numbers of kids smoking e-cigarettes aren’t huge yet, the fact that they are doubling so quickly is a bad sign,” said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health. “There aren’t many things where we see a doubling in one year. We are not talking about adults here. The absolute numbers in middle school are small but they are doubling. We think it is something we need to get ahead of.”
The trend is disturbing for a number of reasons. The popularity of e-cigarettes means manufacturers are coming out of the woodwork to market and sell them. The more suppliers the United States has, the more the price will come down making it easier for teens to afford. There is currently no FDA regulation on these products so even though buyers should beware, most probably have no idea what they’re inhaling. Proponents of e-cigarettes contend they only contain five main ingredients: nicotine, water, propylene glycol, glycerol and flavoring. However, that seemingly innocuous mist may also include chemicals, specifically irritants, genotoxins (that can damage DNA) animal carcinogens and others.
Over the past decade, anti-smoking campaigns by the CDC, including shockingly graphic commercials depicting actual smokers and their battles with cancer, were a success in reducing the number of smokers in the United States. Laws have even banished tobacco smoke from restaurants and businesses. Over the years, so much effort, time and money has gone into making the habit look unhealthy, less attractive and unpopular. Now, Dr. McAfee is concerned that deliberate marketing tactics promoting e-cigarettes to teens, including cartridges that taste like bubble gum and strawberry, may be reversing the trend.
E-cigarettes may be an aid to adult smokers who are trying to kick the habit, but if the CDC study is any indication, they may also be the gateway for kids and teens to pick up the habit.