Teenagers love technology, but the latest gadget that’s gaining popularity among the eighteen-and-under set is one you should worry about: the electronic cigarette.
In fact, experts are now waving a red flag about the trend. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that in just the past year, the percentage of middle and high school students who’ve used e-cigarettes has doubled to 10 percent.
Also known as a “personal vaporizer” (PV), e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco. Instead, an internal mechanism heats up liquid nicotine, which turns into vapor to be inhaled and exhaled. Although the vapor is advertised as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarette smoke—there’s no tar, for example—experts are skeptical that e-cigarettes have no negative side effects.
For starters, nicotine is highly addictive stimulant. In 2009, the FDA conducted a study that also found toxic chemicals and carcinogens in these products, and two other studies have found carcinogens, formaldehyde, and benzene from the secondhand smoke of e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are immune to U.S. tobacco laws (because they don’t have any) and can be purchased without proof of age. Companies have taken advantage of their young market, offering e-cigarettes in a multitude of flavors, like bubble gum, cotton candy, and orange cream soda.
So much about e-cigarettes remains unknown. The short and long-term effects have yet to be fully understood, and until then, experts—who worry that e-cigarettes can serve as a gateway to the real thing—recommend parents strongly discourage their teenagers from taking up the electronic habit.
“About 90 percent of all smokers begin smoking as teenagers,” said Tim McAfee, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health. “We must keep our youth from experimenting or using any tobacco product. These dramatic increases suggest that developing strategies to prevent marketing, sales, and use of e-cigarettes among youth is critical.”
More than 75 percent of the e-cigarette users in the CDC study also reported using real cigarettes.