We know more about e-cigarettes and teens than ever before. Recently, Dr. Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General released a report on teens and young adults who use e-cigarettes. Perhaps one of the more staggering statistics in the report states that e-cig use has increased 900% in high school students from 2011-2015. That’s a jump. Especially concerning right on the heels of progressive data that teens were smoking less traditional cigarettes than ever before.

E-cigarettes are devices that create an aerosol (vapor) by using a battery to heat up liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other additives. There are more chemicals in the solution than just nicotine and some contain heavy metals. Teens inhale this aerosol deep into their lungs where the nicotine and chemicals enters the blood stream. E-cigarettes can also be used to deliver other drugs like marijuana.

Reality is, the introduction of e-cigs has changed teen exposure to nicotine in a remarkable way, remarkably quickly. Nearly 1 in 5 high school students here in WA reports they have used an e-cigarette in the last month. E-cigs and e-hookahs originally entered the market unrestricted. Advertisements and celebrity endorsements arrived rapidly. And the price point of e-cigarettes kept them in reach for curious teens, as the price falls research finds, experimentation increases. Adoption of e-cigs came quickly extending down to middle school students.

These products are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States, surpassing conventional tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and hookahs. I think most people think your brain stops developing when you’re 5 or something, and certainly there’s a huge amount of development in the first couple of years in life, but we know that adolescent brains are actually very significant in development, and nicotine is a neurotoxin, and we know that it can cause lifelong problems for kids, including mental health problems, behavioral problems and actual changes in brain structure.” ~Dr. Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General

Teens report using e-cigs primarily because of curiosity but also the fallacy that they don’t carry health risks.

Highlights From US Surgeon General Report On E-Cigs:

  • Nicotine: One of the primary ingredients in e-cigs is nicotine, although there are plenty others. Nicotine can damage the developing teen brain immediately by changing the way synapses (the spaces between brain cells) are formed. This exposure can harm the parts of the brain that control attention and learning. Nicotine use during teen years is known to lead to permanent changes in impulse control and may contribute to mood disorders. The brain continues to evolve, change and mature until we’re about 25 years old.
  • Addiction: Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Once addicted, many are dependent on nicotine products for the majority of their lives. We know that starting during the teen years is relevant to adult behavior. Some 9 out of 10 adult smokers started under age 18 years. What teens do matters.
  • Flavors: This is a market designed for children and young adults. Flavored e-cig use by teens & young adults far exceeds rates among adults. In my mind, you flavor something “cotton candy” and teens will reach for it. Up to this point flavoring has been unregulated.

Calls For Action:

  • E-cig bans, increases in price & taxes & regulation of marketing tactics have all been suggested.
  • FDA officially restricted sales of e-cigarettes to minors under age 18 and grouped combustible (traditional cigarettes) and vaping and electronic cigarettes together.
  • New push to move to legal age of purchase to age 21 in some states. The main driver is data that finds most teens access e-cigs from young adults between the age of 18 and 20 years of age. Restricting access to the 18- 21 year olds could decrease experimentation, health risks, and ultimate addiction to tobacco products early in life. This can change the health of our nation.

What Parents Can Say:

  • Know the facts: get credible e-cig info here and remind teens that using e-cigs is not a risk-free choice.
  • Be patient and ready to listen, clearly don’t deliver a lecture — you just want to be a source of information for teens and let teens know you know it’s not in their best interest to use an e-cig. E-cigs will not improve their performance in school or sports.
  • Avoid criticism.
  • Set a positive example by being tobacco-free and not using e-cigs, either. A no-duh, but I can’t not mention it.

Helpful Resources: