The debate over e-cigarettes continues to rage as researchers look at the pros of ‘vaping’, a possible reduction in tobacco consumption and the cons—use by teens.
What do the flavors mango, gummi bears and cotton candy have in common? They are some of the candy flavors being used by e-cigarette makers to lure in kids. The original rationale behind e-cigs was to create a product for people trying to stop smoking traditional tobacco products. Not lure children into the smoking culture.
Electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, but not the damaging tar found in tobacco products. A few of the studies show a reduction in tobacco usage by people using e-cigs. That’s the good news. The alarming news comes from a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showing that in 2012 ten percent of high school students reported trying an e-cigarette. That’s up from 5 percent in 2011. But 7 percent of those who tried e-cigarettes said they had never smoked a traditional cigarette. And this is where the ‘benefit’ of e-cigs comes into question. Are our youth going to be introduced to traditional cigarettes because they have started using e-cigs and getting a small, but significant amount of nicotine? Is the e-cig going to become a gateway drug?
“Altogether, in 2012 more than 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide had tried e-cigarettes.” In other words, there are children ranging in age from 10-14 who are smoking e -cigarettes. This feels like a reversal in the progress made through decades of anti-smoking campaigns that reduced teen smoking by 45%. The new e-cigarrette trend makes it possible for kids to get products much more easily than acquiring traditional cigarettes. According to the story on NPR, kids are going to online stores, like e-Bay, to purchase e-cigs.
“Our target customer base is those people who felt doomed to a life of smoking,” says Geoff Braithwaite, who owns Tasty Vapor, a company in Oakland that sells and distributes liquids for e-cigarettes. But he admits that adults aren’t the only ones who may be jumping on this new trend. Clearly the evidence shows he’s right. And, we have to assume that manufacturers are targeting kids. If the target audience were strictly adult would not the flavors be closer to bourbon, dry martini or black licorice rather than cotton candy and gummi bear flavors?
The NPR story, Candy Flavors Put E-Cigarette On Kids’ Menu, was produced by Youth Radio. One of the girls interviewed was Marleny Samayoa, an 8th grader in San Francisco, “A lot of kids are getting them online,” Marleny explains. “And they’re just introducing it to a lot of other kids, and it just keeps going from there. Marleny also commented on the increase in images of e-cigs on social media sites like Instagram. “I take pictures and do tricks, like blowing O’s,” Marleny says, “blowing them on flat surfaces and making tornadoes.” (NPR.org, 2/17/14)
We have decades of research on cigarettes. It took years to get enough solid research to document the damage of tobacco usage; how long will it take to definitively show health risks of e-cigs? The manufacturers are claiming their products are safer than traditional tobacco products and that may be true. How much safer? And, what other potential health risks are our children being subjected to by this cool new trend of e-cigarette smoking? Will e-cigs eventually be subject to some sort of federal regulation, and should they? All interesting questions, which show that history apparently does repeat itself.