E-cig Use Triples Among U.S. Teens

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BOWLING GREEN DAILY NEWS | TARYN PHANEUF | MAY 10, 2015

Smoke-free advocates in Kentucky worry about the way e-cigarettes attract young users.

With no federal regulations, emerging tobacco products are a “wild wild west,” said Ellen Hahn, a University of Kentucky nursing professor and director of the Center for Smoke-Free Policy.

E-cigarette use among U.S. youth tripled between 2013 and 2014, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With an estimated 2.4 million e-cigarette users, they’re the most commonly used tobacco product among middle and high schoolers.

“That’s very disturbing and very concerning, particularly because of nicotine,” Hahn said. “Addiction is the primary concern I have.”

While e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco and are considered an alternative nicotine product by some, smoke-free advocates and the Food and Drug Administration refer to them as a tobacco product.

Warren County Schools officials have caught students using e-cigarettes, district student assistance coordinator Todd Hazel said.

“Students assume it’s a healthier option,” Hazel said.

Warren County just revised its tobacco policy in April to include e-cigarettes, but teachers and administrators have treated violations as tobacco issues “from day one,” he said.

Nicotine exposure at a young age permanently affects brain development, according to the CDC.

On top of nicotine exposure, Hahn is concerned by particles emitted from e-cigarettes polluting the air, putting people at risk of breathing and heart problems, she said.

Locally, an anti-drug coalition isn’t doing much to address vaping among youth, partly because of how quickly their popularity has increased, said Eric Gregory, executive director of Save Our Kids Coalition in Warren County.

“We’re trying to get a handle on what’s going on,” Gregory said.

Gregory said it doesn’t surprise him that e-cigarette use has increased among youth.

After years of stressing the “hazards associated with tobacco,” users might also see e-cigarettes as a more acceptable alternative to cigarettes, he added.

Hahn said it recalls the tobacco industry’s successful work glamorizing smoking through advertising and celebrity use.

“Many people say that’s why it took 50 years … to really even start to make a dent because the tobacco industry had done such a great job,” Hahn said. “This is kind of the next generation of products – the ‘wild wild west’ in regard to regulation.”

Flavors and high-tech components allure kids, she said.

The report is based on data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, which found that 13.4 percent of high schoolers and 3.9 percent of middle schoolers reported current (within past 30 days) use of e-cigarettes.

Current use of cigarettes among high schoolers fell from 15.8 percent in 2013 to 9.2 percent a year later. Cigarettes were the third most commonly used product among both age groups, behind hookah.

Survey results indicated no net change in tobacco use, the report stated.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco. The agency has proposed extending its authority to regulate other products, including e-cigarettes.

Those regulations would include age restrictions, according to the FDA.

Kentucky restricted e-cigarette sales to minors last year.

The Center for Smoke-free Policy has published fact sheets aimed at warning parents that e-cigarettes target teenagers, who are trying them.

Teen use of e-cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2012, according to the center. Of the 1.78 million U.S. teens that tried e-cigarettes in 2012, 160,000 were non-smokers.

For adults, the effort surrounds advocating approved methods for quitting smoking. Unlike what many people hear, e-cigarettes “aren’t a quit aid,” Hahn said.

Local smoke-free advocates are focused on educating the public, particularly in workplaces, said Carol Douglas, tobacco program coordinator for the Barren River Area Health Department.

The Barren River Smoke Free Communities Coalition isn’t yet working to upgrade local ordinances to include e-cigarettes, she said. First they’re trying to build support for classifying them with traditional tobacco products.

“We’re trying to actively promote the danger of e-cigarettes and the dangers of smoking,” Douglas said. “They have some of the same chemicals, toxins and poisons that are in tobacco smoke. Some of them are cancer-causing. Just because it’s in the form of a mist doesn’t mean it’s safe.”

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