While the percentage of Americans who smoke continues to fall – dropping recently to below 20 percent for the first time since the 1960s – the lure of smoking continues to exert a strong appeal among the country’s youth.
In an effort to curb youth smoking, cities and municipalities across the country have enacted new laws designed to make purchasing cigarettes more difficult – New York City raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 in October – or prohibitively expensive – 12 states have an average cost of over $8 a pack for cigarettes. However, despite the desire by public health officials and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to snuff out the smoking trend among America’s youth, a new product has started gaining popularity among kids – e-cigarettes.
In a practice referred to as “vaping,” e-cigarettes allow users to inhale nicotine administered through a puff of hot gas, not the inhalation of smoke. E-cigarette use has doubled among middle and high school aged kids, and adult smokers, between 2011 and 2012, according to a new National Youth Tobacco Survey. Combined, over 1.7 million middle and high school aged kids used an e-cigarette at least once in 2012. The survey also found that 75 percent of kids who used an e-cigarette had also smoked a traditional cigarette within the same 30-day period.
Because the Food and Drug Administration currently has no authority to regulate the use of e-cigarettes – a fact many health experts expect to quickly change – kids have a much easier time acquiring and using this form of nicotine. This leaves many parents with unanswered questions about what the use of e-cigarettes can have on their child’s long-term health.
To help you better understand what to expect, here a few questions and answers regarding e-cigarette usage as provided by the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.
Q. Do e-cigarettes represent a risk to a child’s health?
While e-cigarettes don’t contain the harsh chemicals and additives found in traditional cigarettes, they do offer a concentrated dose of nicotine, the use of which studies have shown can negatively impact brain development in adolescents. The CDC also worries that e-cigarette use will continue the glamorization of smoking, and lead kids to switch to traditional cigarettes when older.
Q. Is smoking an e-cigarette as harmful as smoking a traditional cigarette?
Nicotine is not the primary ingredient in cigarettes that make them damaging to an individual’s health. However, that doesn’t mean using nicotine is safe for kids or adults. Nicotine is a psychoactive drug that is the primary reason why people continue to smoke despite the severe health consequences associated with the habit. Using nicotine at a young age not only threatens the development of a child’s brain, it also increases their risk of developing a lifelong addiction to the drug.
Q. Since e-cigarettes contain fewer toxins, does that mean they don’t cause cancer?
Currently, the e-cigarette market remains unregulated, meaning that no laws exist that dictate what each brand can contain. With over 250 brands on the market, a wide variation exists regarding what a smoker inhales when using the product. Some brands have even tested for containing small traces of known carcinogenic compounds.
Q. Will smoking e-cigarettes stain an individual’s teeth?
The yellow stains and bad breath usually associated with smoking comes from the tar and additives found in traditional cigarettes, so teeth staining may not be an issue for user. However, considering the relatively brief period of time e-cigarettes have been on the market, their long-term effects on an individual’s oral health has yet to be determined.
Q. When will regulations regarding the sale of e-cigarettes go into place?
Currently the CDC and the FDA have yet to announce a timetable for new regulations, but spokespersons from both agencies have expressed a desire for regulations to be in place sooner than later.