Electronic cigarettes, commonly known as e-cigs, are growing in popularity among teenagers and have become more popular than tobacco cigarettes and other tobacco products. While e-cigs were originally designed as a tool to aid smokers in their efforts to quit the habit, they are now introducing the younger generation to nicotine. This chemical is a stimulant that can cause lasting damage to teen brain development and help promote addiction.
E-cigs are small battery-powered gadgets that heat a nicotine-laced fluid, producing a vapor that the user then inhales. Most health experts agree that e-cig use is less harmful than smoking tobacco cigarettes because it is less damaging than the toxins and smoke of burnt tobacco leaves. The plot flaw, however, is that these devices are not being used solely by seasoned smokers trying to quit. They have fallen into the hands of teenagers and the long-term effects of e-cig usage on this generation is unknown.
While in some ways less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, e-cigs still contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. Being exposed to nicotine at a young age can establish patterns that make an individual more susceptible to other addictions. The 2014 Surgeon General’s report stated that nicotine can cause significant damage to the developing brain. The National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control in 2014 concluded that 450,000 middle school students in the United States have tried e-cigs, as have two million high school students. While these statistics support the idea that e-cig use is becoming an epidemic among teenagers today, the makers of e-cigs argue that they are helping drive down the rate of tobacco cigarette use among the general population, including teenagers.
There have been no studies conducted on the conversion rate from youths smoking e-cigs to smoking tobacco cigarettes, however, e-cig companies are following the same marketing tactics as those of tobacco companies in their heyday. These companies feature celebrities in their ad campaigns, appealing to the youth of America’s desire to be seen as glamorous, rebellious and desirable. E-cigs come in kid-friendly flavors such as chocolate, cherry and bubblegum. E-cig companies advertise during family television programming and even on smartphone apps for children’s games. These companies often incorporate children in their commercials and print ads. They have used cartoon mascots in their advertising. All of these marketing tactics are reminiscent of “Big Tobacco” preying on the young and impressionable.
Since second-hand smoke is not a factor with e-cigs as they do not produce smoke or toxins, in most states they can be smoked indoors and in public places. However, this is dangerous in a different way, as it makes smoking seem like a cultural norm once again. For decades, there has been a campaign to stigmatize smoking and prevent teenagers (and adults) from viewing the act as alluring. The campaign has included advertisements that feature smokers who have experienced adverse health effects due to the habit. For example, an anti-smoking advertisement in the 1990s portrayed an older woman admonishing the public on the effects of tobacco cigarettes since she must now speak and smoke out of a hole in her throat. The normalization of smoking that e-cigs has enforced poses a threat to public health in that it encourages the act and is undoing decades of campaigning to alert the public on the dangers of smoking.
One reason e-cigs are so easily accessible to teenagers is due to a lack of regulation. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has only regulated e-cigs specifically marketed for therapeutic purposes. The FDA recently proposed a rule that would extend its tobacco authority to cover all products fitting into the legal definition of a tobacco product which will include e-cigs.
There are many unknown factors when it comes to e-cig usage and its long-term effects on teenagers but the facts that are available do have are discouraging. We know of nicotine’s damaging effects on the developing brain, that vaping can be highly addictive and that the number of teens using e-cigs has risen by 800 percent since 2011, according to the Federal Drug Administration. This is enough to determine that e-cigs need to be regulated more strictly so as to avoid a resurgence of smoking culture in the years to come.
If your teenager is becoming addicted to nicotine through e-cigs or you are concerned their smoking is indicative of other issues, there is help available. Sovereign Health Group of Rancho San Diego is a treatment center that specializes in helping teenagers struggling with mental health, substance abuse or co-occurring conditions. Feel free to contact us to learn more about our programs at 866-615-7266 to get help for your teenager today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer