According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1.78 million U.S. students have tried an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette, e-cig) as of 2012 – and that number continues to climb.
A new study by the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that not only is electronic cigarette use on the rise among teens (it doubled between 2011-2012), but that those who have experimented with e-cigarettes are actually more likely to use conventional tobacco cigarettes, and less likely to quit smoking.
In addition, the number of poisonings among small children who accidentally ingest the nicotine-infused e-cigarette liquid has increased, making e-cigarettes a cause for concern for parents of children of all ages.
E-CIGARETTES, “E-LIQUIDS” AND “VAPING”
Though patented in 1963, e-cigarettes didn’t really take off until the mid-2000s, and the U.S. wasn’t introduced to them until 2007. The phenomenon has been gaining momentum since then. In the Minnesota area, where the sale of e-cigarettes to minors is prohibited according to the Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act of 2010, there are roughly 200 e-cigarette retail shops. Many of them opened just in the last year, making it obvious that this trend isn’t going away any time soon.
For those unfamiliar with them, an electronic cigarette, in its most common form, is a battery-operated device that looks like a conventional cigarette (though designs vary) and is used to simulate smoking. An atomizer heats a refillable “e-liquid” that usually contains nicotine as well as other flavors, producing a vapor that can be inhaled into the lungs – hence the popular term “vaping”.
Touted as a great smoking alternative and smoking cessation tool by manufacturers, e-cigarettes are a hot button issue for advocates and opponents alike. Since they do not contain tobacco, e-cigarettes are currently unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA’s website has this to say on the subject:
E-cigarettes have not been fully studied so consumers currently don’t know:
The potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended.
How much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use.
If there are any benefits associated with using these products.
The FDA is now trying to extend its authority to include e-cigarettes and accompanying paraphernalia.
Other groups supporting restrictions on e-cigarettes include Blue Cross Blue Shield, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and ClearWay Minnesota.
SMALL KIDS AND E-LIQUID SAFETY
According to the Minnesota Poison Control System, there were 50 reports of children being poisoned by e-cigarette liquids in 2013 – five more cases than the previous year. Many of the cases involved children aged 2 and under.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger has cautioned parents about the dangers of the nicotine-infused e-liquids and implores users of e-cigarettes to store them out of the reach of small hands. Many of these brightly colored liquids come in fruit or candy scented flavors, making them attractive to curious young minds.
But with flavors like gummy bear, bubble gum, and caramel apple, toddlers aren’t the only kids attracted to them. According to the UCSF study, of the students who tried e-cigarettes, approximately 20% of middle school students and 7% of high school students have never smoked a traditional cigarette. The marketing tactics of manufacturers are one huge concern for parents and physicians alike who fear that e-cigarettes act as a gateway to tobacco use.
EMERGING STUDIES ON E-CIGARETTES
Though manufacturers would like to conceal any evidence that e-cigarettes are harmful, preliminary studies show otherwise. One such study was presented at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) congress in Vienna.
In this study, researchers from the University of Athens in Greece looked at the short-term effects of e-cigarettes on thirty-two individuals, some tobacco smokers (both with normal lung function, and others with pulmonary disease or asthma) and some non-smokers. In all thirty-two subjects, just 10 minutes of using an e-cigarette resulted in an increase in airway resistance.
An author and chair of the ERS Tobacco Control Committee, Christina Gratziou, said, “we do not yet know whether unapproved nicotine delivery products, such as e-cigarettes, are safer than normal cigarettes, despite marketing claims that they are less harmful…they should not be promoted as a safe alternative.”
A spokesman for the American Lung Association, Dr. Mike Feinstein, said, “people are inhaling some type of chemical vaporized compound into their lungs without really knowing what’s in it.”
The best strategy to keep your kids from playing a game of Russian roulette with these unregulated substances is communication. Take a moment to talk to your kids about peer pressure and the dangers of smoking, vaping, e-cigarettes and e-liquids.