Fewer teens are smoking cigarettes today than at any time in the past two decades. While the decline in teen smoking is great news for parents, recent studies indicate that more teenagers are turning to e-cigarettes. Experts are divided on the risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes, but the fact that more teenagers are experimenting with them is cause for concern.
What Are E-Cigarettes?
Initially introduced as a stop-smoking aid, e-cigarettes are designed to look like traditional cigarettes. Each holds a small cartridge filled with liquid containing nicotine and flavoring agents. Using a battery operated heating element, the e-cigarette heats and distributes the liquid in the cartridge as vapor that is inhaled, giving users a similar experience to smoking a conventional cigarette. Both disposable and refillable models are widely available. The devices have been marketed in the U.S. since the mid-2000s, but sales have skyrocketed since 2010.
There is limited research on the health effects of e-cigarettes, in part because of their relatively short time on the market. Several health organizations have issued warnings regarding the safety of the devices because the long-term health effects are still unknown. Citing concerns regarding the chemicals used in e-cigarette liquid, experts have cautioned potential users that this is not a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes. In addition, e-cigarettes are largely unregulated, so users have little way of knowing the amount of nicotine or other chemicals contained in any given device.
Teen Use on the Rise
As of 2013, 15.7 percent of high school students reported regularly smoking cigarettes. However, the number of teenagers who reported using e-cigarettes more than tripled from 2011 to 2014. Studies indicate that in addition to tighter regulation of tobacco products, the increasing cost of cigarettes and social stigma regarding smoking have played a role in convincing fewer teens to light up. Teenagers may be drawn to e-cigarettes because they are relatively inexpensive, readily available online, and produce no telltale odor. Health officials have warned, however, that nicotine is a highly addictive substance no matter how it is delivered, and talking to kids before they start remains the best prevention.