The latest trend in teenage substance abuse is making parents, schools, and tobacco prevention experts very nervous, says Alexandra Pannoni in U. S. News & World Report. That new "substance" is the e-cigarette, the use of which is called "vaping". Already, high schools nationwide are banning e-cigarettes on campus.
"My students say they are fun and you can do tricks with them, blowing O's and smoke rings and doing party tricks," said Mary Jaccodine, a California tobacco prevention coordinator, in an interview with the Contra Costa Times.
More than 30 states have set an age limit to purchase e-cigarettes and, according to the FDA, rules are being discussed to ban the sale of the e-cigarettes and any other similar products to those underage.
What is an e-cigarette? It is a battery-operated device that resembles a cigarette, with an atomizer that heats a liquid which can be inhaled and then exhaled. They do contain nicotine, which is an addictive substance, and they are not regulated by the federal government. Supposedly created to help long-time smokers quit, the devices are still a tobacco product and are not being overseen by any watchdog agency.
Teens are being sucked in by the flavorings in the vapors with names like "cotton candy and "fruit loops". Plus, they are finding new ways to use the battery-operated device, such as putting marijuana and other drugs into the e-cigarette. The number of high school-aged youth who try them is about 10%. It is apparent that the companies manufacturing the cigarettes are singling out teenagers for their marketing by way of sponsoring events like music festivals, and through the use of celebrities in their advertising.
In an article in the Medical Express,University of Chicago, it is suggested that young people who are in proximity of others who smoke e-cigarettes, may be more likely to be triggered to smoke. In other words, the smoking of an e-cigarette may be just as much a trigger to smoke as being around someone who is smoking a combustible cigarette.
Andrea King, PhD., who ran a study to prove this point, said:
"This study was our first investigation, and there are still many unanswered questions. We don't know about the effects on a non-smoker or a person who has quit smoking or if responses are different for the various e-cigarette brands," she said. "But if the results do generalize and we show this in other groups, it's important to consider policy going forward in terms of reducing harm for both users and observers of e-cigarettes."
Today, the public's ignorance as to the dangers of smoking electronic cigarettes is about at the same level of ignorance that people had about the dangers of smoking combustible cigarettes in the 1950s, writes Harris Nezirovic, reporting for Georgia Public Broadcasting News. The cigarettes arrived in 2007, and are now a $2 billion industry. Still, there are no studies to show whether the vapor contains carcinogens or other toxins.
There are known hazards connected with the liquid nicotine bottles used in the e-cigarette. Even a small amount, if accidentally spilled on a user's skin, can cause poisoning. This is especially true if spilled on or ingested by young children.
Do the cigarettes do what they were purportedly invented to do? Yes and no, according to one researcher:
"If you exclusively used e-cigarettes instead of smoking, everybody would agree you would be better off," said Michael Eriksen, who is conducting an FDA-funded study on e-cigarettes at Georgia State University. "But in reality, that's not what's happening. People are doing both."
Then comes the question of whether or not e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes. Could they even lead to the usage of stronger drugs?