First, the good news: The number of teens using traditional cigarettes declined from 16 percent to 9 percent, and fewer kids are using pipes and cigars. The rise in e-cigarettes suggests that kids might be using them as a way to quit traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes deliver a hit of nicotine without the tar and other chemicals and are generally thought to be safer than traditional smoking, but long-term health effects are still unknown. The rapid rise in e-cig use means health researchers haven’t yet compiled data on their safety.
The Times interviews with teens reveal that e-cigarettes are now as common a sight at schools as laptops—one kid estimated that about 70 percent of his classmates “vape,” or puff on e-cigarettes. Some students use them to quit regular cigarettes; others just like the taste and want to fit in. The flavors sound especially geared to children whose palates haven’t totally developed yet: Unicorn Puke. Hawk Sauce. Sweet Tart. (Sweet Tart actually sounds OK.) Teens found the e-cigarettes less harsh than regular cigarettes, they enjoyed doing something “edgy,” and they liked doing tricks, like blowing smoke rings. And, said one boy about traditional cigarettes, “Girls think they’re gross.”
But anti-tobacco activists are up in arms, says the Times: “They warned that e-cigarettes were undoing years of progress among the country’s most vulnerable citizens by making the act of puffing on a tobacco product normal again, and by introducing nicotine, an addictive substance, to a broad population of teenagers.” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, said, “This is another generation being hooked by the tobacco industry. It makes me angry.”