Electronic cigarettes are increasingly popular as substitutes for tobacco cigarettes, but as we wrote last year, it’s not clear if they are an acceptable alternative to the more traditional nicotine delivery systems. It’s also not clear if they might help smokers quit tobacco. And if smoking e-cigarettes has risks, it’s not clear exactly what they are, and how harmful.
But according to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, e-cigarettes might very well serve as gateway devices for adolescents to begin cultivating a nicotine addiction. And that's not good.
E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that look like fat pens. They have a reservoir for liquid nicotine that, when heated, becomes vapor that users inhale, just like a tobacco cigarette. They’re available in multiple colors and often are flavored with a wide range of options, including bubble gum and peanut butter.
As explained on AboutLawsuits.com, the JAMA study was conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. They surveyed more than 40,000 middle and high school students across the United States.
Another new report on the "e-liquids" that supply the nicotine in e-cigarettes has disturbing information for any concerned parent. As the New York Times reported last week:
These “e-liquids,” the key ingredients in e-cigarettes, are powerful neurotoxins. Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child.
But, like e-cigarettes, e-liquids are not regulated by federal authorities. They are mixed on factory floors and in the back rooms of shops, and sold legally in stores and online in small bottles that are kept casually around the house for regular refilling of e-cigarettes.
Evidence of the potential dangers is already emerging. Toxicologists warn that e-liquids pose a significant risk to public health, particularly to children, who may be drawn to their bright colors and fragrant flavorings like cherry, chocolate and bubble gum.
And get this quote from a toxicologist in the Times article:
“It’s not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed,” said Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System and a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s a matter of when.”
In the JAMA Pediatrics study, use of e-cigarettes among kids doubled from 2011 to 2012, from about 3 in 100 to 6.5 in 100. The teens who used e-cigarettes were less likely to abstain from smoking tobacco cigarettes a month, six months and a year later.
About 1 in 5 middle schoolers and 7 in 100 high schoolers who used e-cigarettes had never smoked regular cigarettes. So some teens are introduced to nicotine addiction through e-cigarettes, the researchers concluded, and are on the road to long-term addiction.
The teens who smoked tobacco and who also used e-cigarettes were more likely to intend to quit smoking within the next year, but they actually were less likely to do so. Experimental cigarette smokers also were less likely to abstain from smoking tobacco if they tried e-cigarettes.
As we noted in our blog, manufacturers of e-cigarettes market them specifically to the teenage demographic — it’s a rich new market!
As AboutLawsuits notes, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA, and more than 40 state attorneys general have appealed to the agency to do so. More than 20 states ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and many ban them in certain areas, as they do tobacco cigarettes.
A report released last autumn by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that regular use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students has more than doubled over the past few years.
A study last year in Nicotine & Tobacco Research concluded that e-cigarettes might expose nonusers involuntarily to nicotine but not to toxic tobacco-specific combustion products. It also said that more research is needed to evaluate the health consequences of secondhand exposure to nicotine, especially among children, pregnant women and people with cardiovascular conditions.
And although it lacks regulatory muscle, the FDA did issue a health warning about the devices nearly five years ago, warning consumers of potentially toxic chemicals in the solution.
So no matter how you slice it, adults should be cautious about taking up electronic cigarettes, and they should be “never” events for kids.