E-Cigarette Use Up Among Teens

NJ Spotlight News | April 20, 2015 | Health Care

By Brenda Flanagan

Jenny McCarthy hawks blu brand vapor e-cigs in online company ads, declaring these “smokeless” devices smell and taste good.

“For me, blu gives me all the fun and none of the guilt of having a cigarette,” she says.

E-cig ads also plaster a bodega down the street from Hackensack High School, where kids go for lunch.

Critics say the all-fun-no-guilt message resonates with teens, who call it “vaping.”

“It was going around the school and people were like, ‘You should try it.’ So I tried it one day,” said 11th-grader Tatiana Brown.

What made junior Justin Vick want to try it? “My peers. My peers, yeah,” he said.

They’ve got company. The CDC just reported e-cigarette use amongst high schoolers tripled, from 4.5 percent to 13.4 percent just last year. That’s 2 million kids. Middle school students more than tripled, from 1.1 percent to 3.9 percent in 2014. They buy mostly fruit and candy flavored e-cigs.

“It was OK. It just tastes like a fruit — fruit smoke in your mouth and then you blow it out and that’s it. Like, I never inhaled it or anything. It’s like fun to play with,” said Brown.

“If you candy-coat the nicotine, you’re encouraging it to be used. And who are you encouraging it to be used by? The younger individuals — the people that are naive to the use of nicotine,” said Dr. Steven Marcus, Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health for Rutgers Medical School.

You can buy e-cigs with no nicotine. Most contain varying strengths of the drug although the packaging doesn’t promote it.

On one side, blu’s Cherry Crush says, “No tobacco smoke — only vapor.” On the back, nicotine tops the list of ingredients in small print.

“Parents should take no comfort in the fact their that their kids are using an e-cigarette rather than a burning cigarette because of the presence of nicotine,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden.

But vapor products spokesmen say CDC stats also show a steady decline in regular cigarette use among teens.

“They have been painting vapor products as a potential gateway to cigarettes, saying that they’re gonna create a generation of nicotine addicts. There’s simply no evidence for that. We’re seeing vapor products acting as a deterrent to youth smoking,” said American Vaping Association President Gregory Conley.

New Jersey became the first state in the nation to outlaw the use of electronic smoking devices wherever regular tobacco smoking is banned and six towns have already banned sales of e-cigs to people under age 21. New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd says, “…nicotine in e-cigarettes is highly addictive and changes the way the brain works. This will forever modify the developing brains of young people in our state, subjecting them to a lifelong challenge with nicotine addiction.”

For some kids, once was enough.

“I don’t like the feeling of wanting to smoke something and, like feeling light-headed,” said Vick.

The CDC suggests fighting fire with fire — perhaps an online ad campaign against vaping aimed at teens.