E-cigarettes pose an increasing health threat to America’s youth, based on a California study that found one in three teens have tried e-cigarettes, and less than half associate smoking with any health risks. The study was published in the JAMA Network Open and highlights the growing need for better regulation and more consistent public health messaging related to e-cigarettes.
Conducted by researchers at Stanford University, this study surveyed 445 teens about their past cigarette use. Participants came from ten diverse high schools across California and nearly two-thirds were Hispanic or Asian. The goal of the study was to see how common cigarette use is among teens and better understand their perceptions about e-cigarette use.
Surveys were conducted from April 6 to June 20, 2018 and included questions about whether they had ever used, used in the past 7 days, or used in the past 30 days any type of cigarettes and/or e-cigarettes. Surveys also asked participants about flavor preferences and their feelings related to the risks and benefits of cigarette use.
Overall, surveys showed that 24% have tried cigarettes, 30% of teens have tried e-cigarettes, and 16% have used pod-based e-cigarettes at some point in their life. On average, participants reported using cigarettes and e-cigarettes about once a day in the past week and three days in the past month. However, average recent use of pod-based cigarettes was nearly double these rates.
E-cigarettes include all battery-powered devices that covert liquid nicotine and other flavoring into a mist or vapor. Traditional e-cigarettes are re-usable and require users to refill liquid into the device. They have been around for years and usually look like a battery-powered version of a cigarette.
In contrast, pod-based cigarettes are newer to the market and first became available in June 2015 under the brand JUUL. They look more like USB devices than e-cigarettes and are one-time use. They are marketed as being the equivalent of 1 pack of cigarettes or 200 puffs. Given their sleek design and ease of use, sales of JUULs have quickly made them the most popular form of e-cigarettes on the market.
One problem of pod-based cigarettes is that sales and use have increased faster than they can be regulated and understood. In the recent study, participants felt there was only a 40% chance that pod-based e-cigarettes would cause any short or long-term health risks, on average. Researchers also found that among the 34 teens that felt addicted to e-cigarettes, there was no difference in symptoms of nicotine addiction between general e-cigarette users and pod-users.
What findings suggest, according to authors, is that pod-based e-cigarettes have quickly become the new norm among California teens. This trend has been reflected in similar studies conducted across the country. Unfortunately, e-cigarettes can cause nicotine dependence, as evidenced by study findings.
The truth is, we don’t fully understand the potential health effects of e-cigarettes since they’re not as closely regulated and studied as tobacco cigarettes. However, most e-cigarettes contain the addictive chemical nicotine, plus countless other chemicals we have little understanding of.
According to authors, we need better public health messaging to clarify that e-cigarettes are not a “safe” alternative to cigarettes. Education is especially critical for teens, among whom e-cigarette use is common and misunderstood.
Experts also encourage better regulation of e-cigarette products to help combat e-cigarette use among teens. Experts encourage better control over flavor options like fruit and mint, which appeal to children and teens. Experts also encourage better control of marketing, particularly on social media where teens spend much of their time.