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Burning popularity of e-cigarettes sparks concerns about teen ‘vaping’

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Junior Fallon Mitchell exhales after a draw from an ecigarette Oct. 5.

Junior Fallon Mitchell exhales after a draw from an ecigarette Oct. 5.

story by Anna Bauman, photos by Anna Leach

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Actress and model Jenny McCarthy casually positions a black, pen-like device between her fingers, her lips pursed around the gadget’s tip as she inhales deeply and gazes out into space with a look of content, her model face perfectly retouched.

 

This image, splashed across the front of the blu eCig website, is one of many advertisements for electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution, sometimes enhanced with flavor, that is inhaled by the smoker and released as odorless water vapor.

 

Health officials worry that celebrity advertising and fun flavors such as piña colada, chocolate, mint and strawberry will draw a younger crowd to e-cigarettes.

 

The concern for the safety and health of a young generation has led to a heated debate regarding the legal status of e-cigarettes, according to an article published in The Kansas City Star. Currently, because e-cigs do not contain tobacco, the FDA does not regulate the devices like it does other tobacco products. This means that within federal law it is legal for minors to purchase e-cigs, with the exception of several states that have placed tighter restrictions on them, including Kansas but not Missouri.

 

But e-cigarette policies may be about to change. In a letter sent in September, the Attorneys General from 41 states urged the FDA to install regulations on the sale of e-cigarettes by the end of this month, according to USA Today.

 

“We ask that the FDA move quickly to ensure that all tobacco products are tested and regulated to ensure that companies to do not continue to sell or advertise to our nation’s youth,” their letter stated.

 

Officials’ fears are justified.

 

According to a recent study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teenage use of e-cigarettes doubled from 2011 to 2012. A National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that in 2011, 4.7 percent of high school students had used an e-cigarette. In 2012, that number jumped to 10 percent.

 

So why are e-cigarettes so popular with teens?

 

The Dart interviewed several STA students to find out. According to two anonymous students, they use e-cigarettes whenever their guy friends supply them, usually at or on the way to parties.

“It’s just kind of something to do,” an anonymous junior said. “Half the reason [my friends and I] do it is to do cool tricks with the smoke.”

 

Personal guidance counselor Amanda Johnson, who has worked with STA students and bases her opinions on what she sees in STA student behavior, believes teens may view e-cigarettes as a “better alternative” to conventional smoking.

 

“Teens might just think that because there is no cigarette smoke coming out of [e-cigarettes], it’s better for [them] or everyone around [them],” Johnson said.

 

Junior Fallon Mitchell confirmed Johnson’s theory.

 

“I don’t smoke [e-cigarettes] that often, but it’s better for you than smoking regular cigarettes,” Mitchell said.

This is a common misconception among young people who are influenced by e-cigarette advertisements promoting a “smart alternative for a better life,” such as e-cig provider GreenSmartLiving.

 

“I looked [e-cigarette smoking] up because I was obviously skeptical and [e-cigs] just [release] water vapor,” another anonymous junior said. “Knowing [an e-cigarette] doesn’t harm you in any way [means smoking one] is just for fun.”

 

While e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. Nicotine levels in e-cigarettes vary, but can be as high or higher than the amount of nicotine in conventional cigarettes.

 

“The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling,” CDC director Tom Frieden said in a press release on CDC Online Newsroom. “Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”

 

Manufacturers tout e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to smoking. However, according to Discovery Health website, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other health experts are concerned that e-cigarettes have not been adequately studied. The potential health hazards of inhaling large amounts of pure nicotine have yet to be determined.

 

“I’m sure there’s a little bit of harm in [e-cigs] just because they have nicotine in them,” the first junior said. “But none of [my friends] are addicted because we maybe [smoke e-cigs], maybe, once a week. It’s not like we have separation anxiety.”

 

Even if e-cigarettes do turn out to be a healthier alternative to the nasty chemicals in regular cigarettes, who is to say that teens will not turn to real smoking after trying e-cigarettes?

 

“I think [e-cigs] could [lead to smoking cigarettes] for some people, but I would never smoke a cigarette,” the first junior said. “I know people who do, though.”

 

There is still much to be learned about e-cigarettes, and until solid research is conducted on them, the FDA plans to place stricter regulations on them.

 

“I think [e-cigs] should be illegal [for minors],” the first junior said. “While me and my friends use them sparingly for recreation, they do have nicotine in them which is addictive.”

 

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By The Numbers

 compiled by Anna Bauman

High school students who have ever used an e-cig:

2011: 4.7%

2012: 10%

 

High school students who used an e-cig in the past 30 days:

2011: 1.5%

2012: 2.8%

 

Among high schoolers who have ever used an e-cig:

92.8% reported smoking a real cigarette at least once

 

Among high schoolers who smoked an e-cig in the past 30 days:

76% reported also smoking a regular cigarette during that time

 

Among high schoolers who currently use e-cigs:

80.5% reported current conventional cigarette usage

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