E-cigs: “Safer” Does Not Mean Safe!

E-cigarettes entered the U.S. marketplace around 2007, and since 2014, they have been the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youth. The sharp rise in e-cigarette use has resulted in an increase in overall youth tobacco product use for the first time in decades and is prompting a series of steps by the FDA to curb youth use.

According to the Georgia Tobacco Use Prevention Program, one in four Georgia High School students reported that they had used e-cigarettes, and the number of students who tried e-cigarettes had increased by 66% since 2013 with up to 32% use of e-cigarettes by 12th grade (Electronic Cigarette Use in Georgia, 2018). The proliferation of high nicotine content pod-based devices such as Juul, has led to an increased incidence of nicotine dependency among youth, in the absence of any evidence-based treatment guidelines for youth under the age of 18. E-cigarette use during the school day has become an urgent issue for schools.

While e-cigarettes may have a place as a harm reduction strategy for adult smokers, they are always harmful for youth. The “vapor” is not water, but an aerosol that contains toxins including formaldehyde,  heavy metals, and nicotine. There are more than 15,000 kid-attracting flavorings, such as chicken and waffles, dragon’s blood, barney pebbles and key lime cookie, some of which (for example, diacetyl, used in popcorn flavors) have been linked to chronic lung and airway damage.

The  newer, pod-based systems like Juul, PHIX and Suorin contain between 40 and 90 mg of nicotine per pod compared to 20mg of nicotine for a pack of cigarettes (Stanford Tobacco Prevention Toolkit, 2019). Nicotine is highly addictive, especially so when used by youth when the brain is rapidly developing. Nicotine use alters brain development, affecting learning, memory, attention and behavior, and could  result in lasting deficits in cognitive function.

90% of adult smokers started smoking by age 18. In order to prevent a new generation suffering from life-long nicotine addiction, preventing the initiation of e-cigarette use by youth is vital. To find out what action parents, teachers, health care professionals, states and communities can take to protect our kids, see  the Surgeon General’s Advisory on E-cigarettes Use Among Youth.

For more information, contact Laura Searcy, Coordinator of the Georgia Tobacco Free Youth Project at tobaccoprevention@ccapsa.org.