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Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy September 9, 2013 12:07 PM
About a month ago, I wrote a post about how there is no such thing as safe tobacco, based on a study showing that while cigarette smoking was down, the use of other kinds of tobacco among youth was not going down. In the post, I said that I was worried about the new battery-operated cigarettes, or e-cigarettes--because they glamorize smoking and make it seem safe and could end up increasing smoking among youth.
I was right to be worried.
Just last week the Centers for Disease Control released a really alarming report. They said that use of electronic cigarettes among youth has doubled in just one year. Doubled. Parents, take notice.
In case you haven't heard about them, e-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that look like cigarettes and give off a vapor when you "smoke" them. Some have nicotine in the vapor, others just use flavored vapor.
In 2011, 4.7 percent of high school students had ever used an e-cigarette. In 2012, that had jumped to 10 percent. The majority (76 percent) of those who use e-cigarettes also use regular cigarettes; while theoretically e-cigarettes could be used as a quitting strategy, I doubt that's how youth are using them. I think that they move back and forth between them, which means that e-cigarettes could be reinforcing the regular cigarette habit.
Experts worry, too, that those who only use e-cigarettes may start using the ones with tobacco. If they use the kind with nicotine they may become addicted--and if the battery runs out, or they leave the e-cigarette at home, they may reach for the tobacco kind. Even if they use the kind without nicotine, e-cigarettes glamorize and normalize cigarette use in a way that can be dangerous for impressionable teens, especially the young ones.
Currently, the sale of e-cigarettes is pretty much unregulated. The Food and Drug Administration says that they are going to change this, but that might not happen quickly. It doesn't help that the vapors come in flavors like bubble gum and chocolate. Talk about marketing to youth.
Until there are some regulations, it's up to parents and others who work or live with youth. Talk to them about e-cigarettes, Help them understand the risks. If you are a parent, be as strict about e-cigarettes as you would be about any other kind of tobacco (hopefully you are being strict and have rules against tobacco). Talk about the marketing, help them see how they are being manipulated.
Please: help get the message out that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette.
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About MD MamaClaire 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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