Snuff out teen use of e-cigarettes, experts say
Smoking by young people has dropped since the 1970s, but electronic cigarettes are enticing a whole new generation to try nicotine.
Also known as e-cigarettes, the use of these battery-powered vaporizing devices tripled last year, according to a survey released in the spring by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against the use of any tobacco products by children and teens, including e-cigarettes, and is recommending raising the sale age for tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The AAP’s policy statements push for stronger regulations on e-cigarettes and encourage doctors to counsel families on reducing exposure and dependence on tobacco.
“Tobacco is unique among consumer products in that it severely injures and kills when used exactly as intended,” according to the AAP policy statement, Public Policy to Protect Children From Tobacco, Nicotine, and Tobacco Smoke. “Protecting children from tobacco products is one of the most important things that a society can do to protect children’s health.”
The Academy urged the U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration to apply strict regulations on electronic cigarettes, including age restrictions, taxes, bans on advertising to teens and bans on flavored products that appeal to adolescents.
“I hope that the AAP’s barrage of statements will spark a discussion and help us think more about protecting teens from e-cigarettes,” said Leif Norenberg, MD, a pediatrician with Briarpatch Pediatrics in Sandwich and Yarmouthport. “It’s great that we’re looking at this and saying it’s not OK.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.2 percent of high school students reported in 2014 that they had smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days, a decrease from 15.8 percent in 2011. But rates for using electronic cigarettes were rising for both middle school students (3.9 percent) and high school students (13.4 percent).
“Tobacco use continues to be a major health threat to children, adolescents and adults,” Karen M. Wilson, MD, chair of the AAP Section on Tobacco Control and section head of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Children’s Hospital Colorado said in a press release from the Academy of Pediatrics. “The developing brains of children and teens are particularly vulnerable to nicotine, which is why the growing popularity of e-cigarettes among adolescents is so alarming and dangerous to their long-term health,” she said.
Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in the Academy press release that the increase in teens’ use of e-cigarettes is due in part to relentless advertising.
“Marketing is about sex, free samples, flavors, aggressive marketing promotion and distribution,” he said. “It’s straight out of the playbook of what was done for cigarettes in the 1950s.”
Teens get mixed messages about whether e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to cigarettes, Dr. Norenberg said. “It’s a tough time to be a teenager, and our job is to let them know that no level of nicotine use is OK.”
He called nicotine a gateway drug, and said that while not all kids who smoke cigarettes will smoke pot, the vast majority of heroin addicts started with cigarettes.
“Parents and other mentors – coaches, teachers, camp counselors – the more teens hear from them that it’s not good to smoke or use nicotine, the better,” he said.
The Great American Smokeout is an annual campaign by the American Cancer Society to encourage smokers to quit. It’s held on the third Thursday of every November (Nov. 19 this year), and encourages those who use tobacco to quit for at least a day.
“There are a lot of resources for people who want to quit, but it’s still hard. It’s so much easier not to start than to quit,” Dr. Norenberg said.