By Michael Fergenson, senior editorial coordinator
As e-cigarette use continues to increase among youth, cigarette use gradually decreases. Meanwhile, many questions remain about the safety of e-cigarettes.
According to a recently released CDC report, “Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students—United States, 2013,” current cigarette use among middle and high school students (that is, having smoked a cigarette at least once in the past month) dropped from 2012 to 2013 (from 3.5% to 2.9% for middle school students; from 14% to 12.7% for high school students).
In contrast, current e-cigarette use, still far less common than use of cigarettes, is on the rise, at least among high school students. The percentage of high school students who reported using e-cigarettes jumped from 2.8% in 2012 to 4.5% in 2013.
Still, it would seem that some students are replacing traditional cigarettes with e-cigarettes, and it’s no surprise that they are doing so.
- E-cigarettes are easier to get. The FDA has recommended a national ban on selling e-cigarettes to minors, but such a federal ban has yet to be enacted. (In the meantime, as many as 41 states have enacted varying restrictions of their own.)
- E-cigarettes come in various flavors, including candy flavors thought to be geared towards youth (such as marshmallow, butterscotch, peanut butter cup, peppermint bark).
- E-cigarettes can be advertised on television, while regular cigarettes cannot.
- Further, one of their main selling points is that their use doesn’t make a person smell like smoke. This makes it easier for teenagers to hide their use from parents and teachers.
Some argue that the switch to e-cigarettes is positive, as many believe that e-cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes. This may or may not be so. While the FDA has recommended regulations that would compel e-cigarette makers to disclose their ingredients and to conduct safety tests, there is currently no regulation over what exactly goes into the liquid that e-cigarettes vaporize. Further, because this product is so new, its long-term effects on health have not yet been studied. As we know, there was a time when the harmful effects of cigarettes were not known and they were even advertised with physicians’ recommendations.
In light of this history, claims that this new product is safe have been met with some skepticism. It’s a positive step that cigarette use has been reduced among the young. Many factors besides e-cigarette use, including public education and the increased stigmatization of cigarette smoking, may be fueling this trend. What’s unclear is how many steps backward we may be taking with the ongoing increase in e-cigarette use.