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Since its debut, the e-cigarette industry has been pushing its products as less dangerous than traditional cigarettes. This message has spread to adolescents: researchers have found that teens who perceive e-cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes are more likely to use e-cigarettes. In 2012, about 1.8 million middle and high school-aged kids reported using an e-cigarette and over half a million had used one in the past 30 days. These numbers are expected to grow as awareness of these products increases.
Many of these kids would not have smoked a traditional cigarette thanks to widespread effective public health campaigns about the health risks of smoking. These campaigns have informed teens and the general public about the health consequences of smoking, especially their link to various cancers, cardiac and respiratory diseases. Because of the perception that e-cigarettes are safer and therefore do not carry the same consequences, teens may be willing to expose themselves to nicotine in this form, thereby increasing their risk for nicotine dependence. Studies show teens tend to underestimate their risk for getting addicted and overestimate their ability to quit once addicted.
Furthermore, there is no conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes are safe. Many experts believe that because e-cigarettes are not combustible, most of the carcinogens that are present in tobacco smoke will not be created in vapor. However, studies did find that high-voltage e-cigarettes can produce carcinogens. We need more research before we can determine the risks associated with using these products.
In recent years e-cigarette companies have employed many of the same marketing tactics as the big tobacco companies. Television ads, celebrity endorsements, flashy displays and free samples featuring the product are once again common. These advertisements glamorize an addiction-promoting product and make it all the more appealing to young people.
Additionally, e-cigarettes are available in over 7000 flavors, with 250 additional flavors being released each month. Even tobacco companies admit that these options are likely to attract teens to the product. The FDA is currently deciding what sort of regulations they will apply to e-cigarettes. To us, it is clear the e-cigarette industry needs regulations to prevent the type of marketing practices that had terrible consequences with cigarettes.
Margaret Raskob is a freelance blogger.