UPDATE, May 2016 - The FDA announced stricter rules regarding the sale of e-cigarettes.The ruling determined these tobacco products need to be kept out of the hands of children. As per the FDA, it is now illegal for retailers to sell tobacco products to anyone under age 18, either in person, via the Internet, or through mail order.
Remember finding candy cigarettes in your Halloween loot? After tucking that sugary cig between your lips, you instantly felt cool and grown-up. Many kids probably warmed to the idea of lighting up for real after trying that first virtual smoke. While cigarette use has declined among high school students, a growing number of adolescents are vaping instead — with e-cigarettes.
What’s the lure?
E-cigarettes — more commonly known by teens as "hookah pens" or "vape pipes" — are appealing to kids for several reasons. First, they’re inexpensive. They have sleek designs (some resemble pens) and can boast special vapor flavorings like cotton candy, peach, and chocolate chip. Like a cigarette, e-cigarettes, e-hookahs and vape pens can be nicotine delivery devices. And since e-cigs emit no smoke, they leave no smell on the breath or clothes, making it easier to slip by unassuming parents.
Which teens have steadily been doing in greater numbers.
E-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products. Findings from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey show that current e-cigarette use (smoking on at least one day in the past 30 days) among high school students increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014. Among middle school students, e-cigarette use tripled from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent in 2014.
For a young person, e-cig usage, or vaping, may be a gateway to smoking traditional cigarettes.
“I think e-cigarettes are going to cause a lot of health problems for teens and young adult users,” says Stephania Cormier, a researcher at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. Harmful nicotine content is just the tip of the iceberg. When an atomizer heats liquid nicotine, a vapor is produced which is inhaled by the user. Vaporized liquids create an ultra-fine mist that reaches the lower airways of the lungs.
“The biggest problem with e-cigs is that we don’t know all of the components in the vapors they’re using,” says Cormier. “The FDA hasn’t stepped in to regulate what’s in e-cigs, nor have they required labeling on what is in the vapor. Manufacturers are using flavoring agents that have chemicals that can be toxic and harmful to respiratory health.”
In one study, researchers analyzed 150 e-cig vapors and found that 50 percent contained diacetyl, a flavoring used in food products such as butter. Inhaling diacetyl decreases respiratory function, and at high levels, leads to a severe respiratory disease called bronchiolitis obliterans, which is fatal in 50 percent of cases. In youth with asthma, e-cigs exacerbate existing problems with increased mucous and reduced airflow.
Like smoking, vaping harms
Cormier also conducted experiments to examine whether e-vapors worsen the severity of respiratory tract viral and bacterial infections in mice. She found exposure to e-vapors lowered immune responses. “Vapors increase the severity of respiratory disease in animals, and I would imagine it would do the same in humans.”
Cormier grew interested in e-cig research after a friend tried switching to e-cigs in an effort to stop smoking traditional cigarettes. “Two interesting things occurred,” she reports. “He e-vaped much more than he had smoked regular cigarettes, and he developed a phlegmy cough that would not go away. Once he switched back to traditional cigarettes, the cough eventually went away.”
In 2014, overall rates of all tobacco product use were 24.6 percent for high school students and 7.7 percent for middle school students.
You’re likely familiar with the dangers of nicotine. E-cigs are available with zero, low, and high nicotine dosages, which can be very addictive for some users. Kids may also experience social addiction, smoking or vaping only with friends.
Regardless, talk to your teen about the risks associated with e-cigarettes. Check their Snap Chat feeds to see if they are smoking with friends. In Tennessee, it is illegal to sell to minors, but kids can easily purchase products online. Look for vapor vials as an indication your kid is part of this growing trend.