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Teens' Use of E-Cigarettes Doubles in a Year: CDC

Health officials worry the devices may cause more children to become addicted to tobacco products

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 5 (HealthDay News) -- The use of electronic cigarettes -- or e-cigarettes -- by U.S. middle and high school students more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, federal health officials reported Thursday.

And, rather than using electronic cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco, 76 percent of young e-cigarette users also smoked regular cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Much to our alarm, our children in high school and junior high are experimenting with e-cigarettes at an alarming increase from one year to another," said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.

McAfee said the growing use of e-cigarettes by children is troubling, and must be looked at in the context of all tobacco use. "The use of e-cigarettes is not happening in a vacuum, but in a world where cigarettes are ubiquitous. We still have over 40 million people who smoke and 500,000 deaths a year from smoking cigarettes," he said.

One of the dangers of e-cigarettes is they may encourage children to try real cigarettes, McAfee said. "They [e-cigarettes] are easy to buy because their sale is not restricted," he said. "They can be sold anywhere, you can buy them over the Internet or at a kiosk in a mall."

McAfee said a teen who tries even one real cigarette is doubling his or her chances of becoming a smoker. "We are worried that e-cigarettes will help kids overcome their inhibitions and re-normalize smoking and undermine the progress we have made," he said.

There's no hard evidence that e-cigarettes lead to smoking real cigarettes, McAfee acknowledged. "Because we are just getting results of surveys we do not have direct evidence, but it's likely to increase the risk of smoking," he said.

"There is no upside to teens being exposed to e-cigarettes," he added.

McAfee said he's concerned that e-cigarettes will addict children to nicotine at a time when their brains are still developing. "We are worried about the adolescent use of nicotine, because the adolescent brain is uniquely susceptible to addiction and nicotine is harmful to their brain development," he explained.

The study findings were published in the Sept. 6 issue of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called the CDC findings "alarming, but not surprising."

"E-cigarettes are sold in an assortment of sweet, kid-friendly flavors including 'vivid vanilla,' 'cherry crush' and chocolate, and they increasingly are marketed using themes and images long used to market regular cigarettes to kids," he said.

Although e-cigarette manufacturers contend that they only market to existing smokers, often as a way to quit the habit, the new CDC statistics show the marketing is enticing children to start what could become a lifelong addiction to tobacco products, Myers said.

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