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There's no such thing as safe tobacco--even the fake kind

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  August 9, 2013 02:56 PM

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ecig.jpgFewer teens are smoking cigarettes these days than before, which is great news. But just as many are using smokeless tobacco--which means we are doing a bad job of teaching kids about the dangers of tobacco. And e-cigarettes (with the help of Jenny McCarthy) are making the job harder.

In 1993, 36.4 percent of high school students smoked cigarettes. Just 4 years later, in 2011 (the most recent year we have data for), that number was down to 18.1 percent. But according to a recent study, 5.6 percent of all US adolescents (that includes middle schoolers) use smokeless tobacco--and that number hasn't really budged. Smokeless tobacco comes in various forms, including snuff, chewing tobacco, and newer forms that dissolve under your tongue..

In the study, researchers found that teens didn't think that smokeless tobacco was all that dangerous. It's true that it's more dangerous to smoke the stuff and suck all those toxins into your lungs. But smokeless tobacco is dangerous. It can cause oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer. It can lead to heart disease, gum disease and other diseases of the mouth. 

It's addictive, too; the nicotine from smokeless tobacco actually stays in your body longer than the nicotine you get from smoking a cigarette. And it's that addiction that worries me, because it makes all tobacco use more likely. Not surprisingly, in the study about three-quarters of youth that used smokeless tobacco also smoked cigarettes.

That's why I'm so bummed about the new e-cigarettes. They look like cigarettes, even seem to puff out smoke--but they don't burn anything. They are battery-operated, and the stuff that comes out is vapor. Some have nicotine, but some are just flavored vapor. They have fewer health risks than cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, but that doesn't mean they are safe; nicotine is addictive, and the vapor may not be good for you (it's being studied).

I'm okay with someone using an e-cigarette as part of a quitting strategy. But that's not the only way they are being marketed. Jenny McCarthy is marketing one in a video that is all about being sexy and glamorous as you "smoke" (first she's anti-vaccine, now she wants people to smoke?). Between that and the fact that those vapor flavors include things like bubble gum and chocolate....this is not good for our youth. Making "smoking" seem glamorous and safe is just dumb. At some point, the battery runs out, and teens may reach for the real thing. Or they may reach for the real thing in the first place, because they want to be glamorous and they can't afford the e-cigarette.

So come on, folks. Let's get really clear on our messages to youth, and keep them safe. That's our job.

Tobacco, in all forms, is bad for you. Even the fake kinds. Let's get the word out.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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