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Discourage E-cigarette Use, Especially Among Young People

The use of e-cigarettes is a rapidly emerging trend that is especially popular with youth and young adults. E-cigarettes are devices that typically deliver nicotine, flavorings, and other additives through an inhaled aerosol. E-cigarettes are very popular and are flavored to taste like menthol, alcohol, candy, fruit, chocolate, or other sweets. More than 8 of every 10 youth ages 12-17 who use e-cigarettes said they use flavored e-cigarettes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many people erroneously believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than other tobacco products. The sometimes sweet-smelling vapor smoke can seem appealing, but it contains harmful ingredients, including nicotine. E-cigarettes can also be used to deliver other drugs besides nicotine, such as marijuana.

Scientists are studying how e-cigarettes affect health. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and hinder brain development. The aerosol from e-cigarettes also contains harmful chemicals, ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, and other heavy metals. Flavoring such as diacetyl has been linked to lung disease. Furthermore, the battery packs in e-cigarettes have been known to start fires and explode, causing serious injury.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is especially concerned about a highly popular e-cigarette made by JUUL Labs Inc. A JUUL does not have the same appearance as other e-cigarettes. The small and sleek devices look much like a computer flash drive that is easy to hide in a fist or a pocket. They can even be plugged into a laptop’s USB slot to recharge. This is a special concern because the concentration of nicotine in JUUL is more than twice the amount found in other e-cigarettes.

According to the CDC, e-cigarettes are a $2.5 billion business in the U.S. As of 2014, the e-cigarette industry spent $125 million a year to advertise their products, and used many of the techniques that made traditional cigarettes popular such as sexual content and customer satisfaction. We know that marketing and advertising of conventional tobacco products like cigarettes can lead youth to use tobacco, and scientists are finding that youth who are exposed to e-cigarette advertisements are more likely to use the product than youth who are not exposed.

Because these products are so new, scientists do not know the long-term health effects of using them yet. Most tobacco use starts during adolescence, so it is important that parents, guardians, teachers, health care workers, and others who interact with young people discourage the use of e-cigarettes and talk to them about the risk of nicotine addiction that makes them more vulnerable to later cigarette use and other addictions.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(August 2018)

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Page last updated: August 1, 2018