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E-Cigarettes: Is It Safe for Our Kids to Vape? 

May 01, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Although the Falmouth Prevention Partnership has focused its efforts and resources on diminishing the abuse of alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medications among teens and preteens, the use of nicotine-based products such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco is an ongoing problem. Recently there has been a surge in the use of e-cigarettes among youth nationally. These products contain varying amounts of nicotine, which is known to be addicting.

The Device

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): E-Cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine without the other chemicals produced by burning tobacco leaves. Puffing on the mouthpiece of the cartridge activates a battery-powered inhalation device (called a vaporizer). The vaporizer heats the liquid inside the cartridge which contains nicotine, flavors, and other chemicals. The heated liquid turns into an aerosol (vapor) which the user inhales—referred to as “vaping.”

E-Cigarette Use Triples

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Center for Tobacco Products published findings from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey. The survey is a school-based, self-administered questionnaire given annually to more than 20,000 middle and high-school students in both public and private schools.

The survey indicates that the use of e-cigarettes tripled among middle and high school students in just one year. The findings show that current e-cigarette use (use on at least 1 day in the past 30 days) among high school students increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, rising from approximately 660,000 to 2 million students. Among middle school students, current e-cigarette use more than tripled from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent in 2014—an increase from approximately 120,000 to 450,000 students.

This is the first time since the survey started collecting information about e-cigarettes that current use of these devices has surpassed the current use of every other tobacco product overall, including traditional cigarettes. The CDC survey results also documents that from 2011 to 2014, the number of high school students who smoked traditional cigarettes declined from 16 percent to 9 percent, which possibly suggests that some teen smokers may be using e-cigarettes to quit.

Potential Harm of Vaping

In a press release, Tom Frieden, MD, Director of the CDC said, “We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette or cigar. Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”

According to NIDA there are conflicting studies about whether or not e-cigarettes help smokers to quit; and, health experts have raised many questions about the safety of these products, particularly for teens:

  • Testing of some e-cigarettes found that the vapor contained known cancer-causing and toxic chemicals, and particles from the vaporizing mechanism may be harmful. The health effects of repeated exposure to these chemicals are not yet clear.
  • Nicotine is highly addictive, and there is animal research which shows that nicotine exposure may cause changes in the brain that make other drugs more rewarding. If this is true in humans, as some experts believe, it would mean that using nicotine would increase the risk of other drug use and for addiction.
  • There is a link between e-cigarette use and tobacco cigarette use in teens, raising the concern that e-cigarette use may serve as a “gateway” or introductory product for youth to try other tobacco products, including regular cigarettes; smoking is the single-biggest cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 Americans a year.
  • The liquid in e-cigarettes can cause nicotine poisoning if someone drinks, sniffs, or touches it. Recently there has been a surge of poisoning cases in children under age 5.

Regulation of E-Cigarettes

Cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco are currently subject to the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is currently finalizing regulations for e-cigarettes. According to the FDA, 

“In today’s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace, the surge in youth use of novel products like e-cigarettes forces us to confront the reality that the progress we have made in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates is being threatened.”

Currently, Massachusetts does not regulate e-cigarettes and there are no age restrictions on sales. In March, Attorney General Maura Healey proposed regulations that would prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. The proposed rules would prohibit free giveaways of T-shirts or other merchandise with the sale of e-cigarettes and would prohibit giving away free samples. It would require that e-cigarettes be sold from behind the counter, not in vending machines or on stores shelves. E-cigarettes would have to be packaged in child-resistant packaging. Online sellers would have to verify a customer's age.

The FDA plan to regulate e-cigarettes and rules being developed in a number of states is fueling a controversy about e-cigarettes, pitting government agencies, children’s health advocates, big tobacco companies, and small e-cigarette shops and manufacturers against each other. This debate will likely heat up

Keeping Your Kids From Using E-Cigarettes

The best way for your teen or preteen to avoid the addiction and health problems of cigarettes and e-cigarettes is to never start smoking or vaping. While your kids may not think about how their current behaviors can affect their future health, it's important for you to discuss the risks with them. A good place to get information for your teen about smoking is KidsHealth.

If your teen does smoke conventional cigarettes and wants to quit, e-cigarettes are not the way to go. Using an e-cigarette mimics the experience of smoking regular cigarettes more closely than other quitting options and they can be addicting. Instead, speak with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor for smoking cessation options.

And, if you smoke or vape try to quit. Not only will it be beneficial to your health, but will send a powerful message to your child!

E-Cigarette Availability

Currently, there are three stores on the Cape that sell e-cigarettes, two in Hyannis and one in Mashpee, with a store “coming soon” to Falmouth. E-cigarettes are readily available online. A Google search “buying e-cigarettes online” got more than four million results and a search for “where to buy e cigs under 18” had more than 400 thousand results. 

Resources

A recent article, Electronic Cigarettes: Vulnerability of Youth, published in the medical journal Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology is an excellent review of scientific studies that look at various health-related claims about e-cigarettes.

Final Thought From NIDA

“The last thing we want to see is for these sleek, shiny, and safe-seeming new devices to re-glamorize smoking behavior and reopen the door to conventional cigarette use in a population that has been consistently using less and less tobacco since the 1990s. That would undo decades of successful prevention efforts and put the health of yet another generation of kids at risk,” Dr. Wilson M. Compton, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

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