Rise in e-cigarette use tempts young teenagers

Rebekah Devorak | Asst. Opinions Editor

Could cigarette culture be making a comeback? Surely, America is a far cry from the days of the 1950s and 1960s, where cigarette smoke could be sniffed out practically anywhere. However, a study released on April 16 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that America’s youth are beginning to fall prey to the newest tobacco trend: e-cigarettes.

The study states e-cigarette use tripled among middle and high school students between 2013 and 2014. The number rose almost 10 percent for high school students, bringing it to just over 13 percent for 2014. As for middle school students, the number of children using e-cigarettes rose from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent in 2014, reaching nearly 450,000 students.

According to the FDA, an e-cigarette is a battery-operated electric cigarette that is designed to deliver nicotine. The nicotine is transported by a liquid which the e-cigarette converts to an aerosol so it can be inhaled. Most e-cigarettes can be customized with different accessories and flavored liquids to fit the user’s personality.

The findings from the study alarmed those at the CDC, who urged parents in a press release to explain the dangers of any nicotine use to their children. However, e-cigarettes have only been in the United States since 2007. Scientists are unsure of any long-term negative health effects, although according to The New York Times, they believe that e-cigarettes will normalize tobacco use once again among youth.

One of the biggest questions that officials are trying to answer right now is whether or not e-cigarettes will cause addiction problems that could lead to actual cigarette use later in life. While the CDC reports that traditional cigarette use dropped 25 percent among teenagers from 2013 to 2014, some believe that it is merely a gateway into smoking packs a day.

The CDC’s director, Thomas R. Frieden, believes that e-cigarettes are a ploy by the tobacco industry to hook young people. While there is no actual tobacco in e-cigarettes, it would be no surprise that the industry could potentially use the trend to regain a stronghold on teenagers, who in the past have been a primary target.

On the other hand, many state that e-cigarettes actually benefit health. This is especially true for traditional cigarette smokers. According to a study by the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, evidence shows that e-cigarettes help users to either decrease or completely quit traditional cigarette consumption. Given that e-cigarettes supply the nicotine to the user without any of the chemicals or additives found in traditional cigarettes, some consider it to be a safer option.

The New York Times cites personalization and social interaction for why these are suddenly so popular. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes come in a variety of colors, sizes and styles. The coordinating liquids sound more like dessert than tobacco, with flavors such as birthday cake and root beer float. E-cigarettes have morphed into a form of self-expression, with The New York Times equating the trend’s implied status to that of Apple computers.

Not unlike their traditional counterparts, e-cigarettes allow for social bonding. Middle and high school years were typically filled with the never-ending quest to fit in for many, and that probably hasn’t changed today. Given the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, many kids take part simply because it’s a trendy way to hang out with friends.

Despite its popularity, e-cigarettes are illegal for minors to purchase and consume. While 42 states have currently banned them from purchasing e-cigarettes, it’s still fairly easy to do so online. The New York Times says minors just have to click yes when asked by a website whether or not they are 18. From there, they can purchase the e-cigarettes freely.

While e-cigarettes should not be condemned just yet due to the lack of conclusive research, there should definitely be more laws prohibiting the sale to minors. E-cigarette liquids don’t contain tobacco or chemicals, but they do still contain nicotine, which is addictive no matter how it’s delivered.

As for adults, more long-term research should be conducted on the subject to determine if e-cigarettes and their vapors are harmful, as well as if e-cigarettes could be a safe option for helping current traditional smokers to quit.