Over the last three years, American high school students' usage of electronic cigarettes has tripled, says a new government report.
A large nationwide survey taken last year by the Centers for Disease Control, showed that 4.5% of high school students had used e-cigarettes in the previous month — an increase from 1.5% in 2011 and 2.8% in 2012. What it does not show is whether some were using the cigarettes repeatedly or if some tried the cigarette once and didn't do it again.
Mike Stobbe, reporting for the Associated Press, explains that e-cigarettes first appeared in the US in late 2006. The cigarettes are booming now because of clever marketing tactics and a perception that they are safer than tobacco-based alternatives.
E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine into a vapor that can be inhaled. They are touted to be a safe way to smoke, but doctors say that nicotine, even e-cigarette nicotine, is harmful to children. A national ban on sales of e-cigarettes to minors has been suggested by federal officials, while dozens of states have stopped the sale of the cigarettes to minors already.
Dr. Patrick T. O'Gara, president of the American College of Cardiology, is disappointed at these findings. Smoking rates have decreased over the last few decades and now there is the possibility of "going backwards" if a new generation becomes addicted to nicotine.
The CDC survey included more than 18,000 high school and middle school students. It found that 13% of high school students had recently smoked regular cigarettes, and 23% used some form of tobacco. The rate of adults who use e-cigarettes is lower at 2.6% last year, according to the CDC.
There are groups eagerly awaiting the federal government's next move on new regulations of e-cigarettes. The tobacco industry, elected officials, and anti-tobacco groups are anxious to see what the Food and Drug Administration's stand will be. Richard Craver of the Winston-Salem Journal reports that the FDA has recommended that sales of the e-cigarettes be banned to those under the age of 18, that health warning labels be placed on the packaging of the e-cigarettes, that the FDA will review existing and future products, and that free samples be discontinued.
The FDA has not banned the cigarettes, stopped internet sales of the devices, or restrict current marketing on television and social media.
"Considering how trends in tobacco product use and tobacco marketing changes, rigorous surveillance of all available forms of tobacco use by youths, particularly emerging products such as e-cigarettes, is essential," the CDC said.
There is a voice on the other side of this debate. It comes from Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor in the School of Public Health at Boston University, who believes that young people's use of e-cigarettes is being handled in a poor way by the CDC.
"The smoking prevalence among this group dropping substantially suggests that electronic cigarettes are not serving as a major gateway to cigarette smoking among youth. The CDC has yet to produce a shred of evidence that this is the case."
Seigal's other worry is that the regulations may make it more difficult for those who are using the electronic cigarettes to stop or reduce smoking to access to them.
Natalie Adams of the University of Georgia newspaper The Red and Black reports that e-cigarettes are being banned campus-wide, just after regular cigarettes on campus have been banned, to students' dismay. Some in the UGA community have theories as to why the ban has been instituted, including those who think the college is not yet convinced that the vapor or the nicotine in the e-cigarettes is safe. Others say that the school wanted to rid the school of the image of smoking entirely.
Davis Parker, an economics and political science major from Huntsville, Alabama does not agree with the ban, but does have an opinion about why the devices have been banned across the University System of Georgia.
"Some reasons they might be banned are consistency across the board, if they are banning all types of tobacco and tobacco substitutes, a belief that they are harmful to students or belief that they encourage cigarette use," he said.