According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen use of e-cigs (battery-operated smoking devices that turn liquid nicotine into a vapor, which is then inhaled, or “vaped,” by the user) tripled between 2013 and 2014, with 13.4 percent of high school students and 3.9 percent of middle schoolers now using them.
The numbers are not really that surprising when you consider the fact that e-cig manufacturers seem to be blatantly targeting the teen market. They use bright colors, candy flavors and youthful names like “cherry crush” and “orange creamsicle.”
“Why settle for typical tobacco flavor when you can satisfy that sweet tooth we all have. We carry Licorice, Gummy Bears, Cotton Candy and even four types of gum. So take a look, you’ll find a great assortment of sweet flavors below.”
That’s an actual quote from an e-cigarette website—where they also promote flavors like Banana Split Sundae, Grandma’s Apple Pie and Hot Buttered Popcorn as a viable alternative to a calorie-laden food.
“This is one of the few pleasures that doesn’t add calories to your diet. So enjoy all these guilt free pleasures any time you like.”
Wait. Guilt free? Though e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco or create smoke, they do usually contain addictive nicotine, according to the CDC. “We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, told NPR. “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction and lead to sustained tobacco use.”
Why, then, is this stuff being sold to our kids?
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration proposed regulating electronic cigarettes, but failed to address 86-ing the fruit and candy flavors—which, not incidentally, are banned in regular cigarettes due to the fear that they will appeal to children. According to NPR, the FDA is still “currently in the process of deciding how strictly to regulate e-cigarettes.” But while some worry that e-cigarettes are a gateway drug to regular cigarette smoking, others are busy applauding them for doing less harm than their traditional tobacco counterparts.
“The release of this study couldn’t be better timed,” said Nancy Brown of the American Heart Association in a written statement to NPR. “Tobacco regulations need to be finalized now. We cannot stand by while more and more youth put themselves at risk for heart disease, stroke or even an early death.”
Pretty colors and cute candy names be damned.