E-cigarette use is growing among teenagers. Vaping is on the rise among high-school students in particular, with rates increasing steadily each year. I still think of e-cigs as the gateway to the gateway drug. In my experience, teens remain confused. They hear about health benefits (harm reduction) in adults and they may think that confers safety. In addition, some teens have reported to me they have heard it will improve their sports and school performance.
Nope. No data to show e-cigs are good for anything in teens, in fact we know nicotine increases HR and BP which in the end could decrease sport skills. Just a teaspoon of liquid nicotine can be lethal to a young child and we know nicotine can have lasting adverse consequences on teen brain development. Becoming addicted to nicotine (the big worry with teen use) could have secondary health effects leading athletes to cigarettes which we know won’t improve their talent on the field.
Rates of e-cig use rose from 4.7% in 2011 to 10% in 2012, now a recent Pediatrics study of 1900 high-schoolers in Hawaii shows 29% have tried e-cigarettes. Only 15% of the same group reported trying a cigarette. These e-cigs are getting around.
It’s not just use among teenagers that’s cause for concern. Young children living with or near nicotine may be at highest risk from e-cigs due to their curiosity and lagging judgment and ultimate exposure. The first child death related to exposure of liquid nicotine was reported last week. A child in NY has died from exposure to liquid nicotine after officials have been warning of the risks from sales lacking regulation. The risks are being felt everywhere as the rates of calls to poison control rose from 1 report in September of 2010 to 215 calls in February of 2014. This NY death represents an enormous tragedy for this family but also for our ability to prioritize safety over sales. We can’t forget that the flavored nicotine used in e-cigs appeals to many senses in a toddler exploring their environment. Dr Alexander Garrard, Clinical Managing Director of the Washington Poison Center said, “The products smell very sweet, akin to a jolly rancher so they’re enticing to a number of different senses in kids. The packaging is very colorful as well.” All these things draw a child to experiment and possibly ingest.
Protecting children from this toxin, I would say, is a true failure of pediatric public health.