Health officials are increasingly concerned about e-cigarettes, which contain addictive nicotine that could harm adolescent brain development.
Texas is one of only nine states that allow the sale of e-cigarettes to children under 18 years old, but that may be short-lived. State lawmakers “will consider banning such sales amid concerns about growing use of the ‘safer’ alternative to smoking among youths,” the San Antonio Express-News reports.
E-cigarettes are metal tubes that heat liquid into a vapor that can be inhaled. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in April that it wants to regulate e-cigarettes as well as cigars, pipe tobacco and hookahs. If adopted, the FDA plan would limit sales to minors, ban free samples, require warning labels and force disclosure of ingredients.
The American Medical Association also has recommended a ban on sales to children under 18 years old. However, FDA regulations would not ban sales on the Internet.
“E-cigarettes are not a harmless alternative to cigarettes,”said Bradley Berg, MD, medical director of McLane Children’s Pediatrics in Round Rock. “Many people, especially teens, see this as a ‘safe, hip’ alternative to cigarettes. Although they do protect from the tar, they have a significant amount of nicotine which can affect mood, school performance and is, of course, just as addictive as cigarettes.”
E-cigarette use by high school students tripled from 2011 to 2013, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) survey released in November, and has surpassed cigarettes in use by teenagers. A Pediatrics study found that 29 percent of teenagers have tried e-cigarettes, with nearly two-thirds of those reporting they used them in the previous month.
Although e-cigarette marketers say they are not trying to sell the product to young people, opponents point out that flavors such as cherry, vanilla, and cookies and cream milkshake clearly are aimed at children. Critics fear e-cigarettes will reverse decades of anti-smoking progress and make the habit seem normal to teens and young adults.
E-cigarettes are not without their proponents. They say that e-cigarettes are less addictive and a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes and an effective cigarette-smoking cessation strategy. E-cigarettes are on the verge of becoming a $2 billion business in the U.S.
The Express-News reports: “Now a $1.7 billion industry, e-cigarettes have surged in popularity since they came from China as a smoking-cessation aid a few years after the turn of the 21st century. Their effectiveness has been questioned, with one review finding that smokers who used e-cigarettes were about a third less likely to quit smoking than those who didn’t use them. Though the matter is debated, critics contend that they are typically used instead of or in addition to conventional cigarettes, not as a transitional tool until the smoker kicks the habit.”
The research on potential e-cigarette harms is in its infancy. The World Health Organization has called e-cigarettes safety “illusive” and the evidence of their effectiveness on helping people quit cigarettes inconclusive. The CDC takes a similar stance, but is calling for greater regulation in the meantime.
Dr. Berg said the incidence of e-cigarette overdose and intoxication has skyrocketed over the past five years, especially in children under 5 years who consider them candy and try to drink from the cartridge. He urged adults to treat e-cigarettes like other medications by keeping them out of reach of children and locked up.