E-cigarettes: An unforeseen problem

You may have noticed kids or adults carrying it around: in the subway, on the walk to school, or outside an office building. It’s a long, skinny, metal-like object--something you may even think is a pen if you don’t look at it hard enough. Even with its different colors, it’s not a writing utensil or a tool. It’s an e-cigarette, commonly known as a “vape”. Although some experts previously supported its use to help adult smokers decrease their cigarette habit, the e-cigarette market has unfortunately expanded from adult smokers to young kids in middle and high school.

According to the New York Times, e-cigarettes are deceptive--not only because they come in different appealing flavors, but they are also easily concealable. Manufacturers have made them easily clippable to clothing or look like flash drives. E-cigarettes also contain a higher concentration of nicotine, an extremely addictive chemical, than actual cigarettes do. Despite this knowledge, limited research surrounds the long-term risks of e-cigarettes on health due to the newness of the product. There is also a gap in awareness among adults of the harmful effects of e-cigarettes. A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that approximately 30% of surveyed adults did not know if secondhand exposure to aerosol, which contains nicotine and other hazardous chemicals, was harmful to children. In addition, about 40% of the surveyed adults indicated that secondhand aerosol exposure results in “little or some” harm to kids. All of these factors make it even more difficult to market a campaign against e-cigarette use.

In addition, many manufacturers claim that their products are not intended for children, especially when federal law indicates e-cigarettes can only be purchased for those over 18 years of age. However, their marketing campaigns indicate otherwise. The New York Times states how companies advertise clothing lines that display their vape brand and sell “vape sauce”, which can be attractive to many teens.

To combat the rise of e-cigarette use in educational settings, especially with limited federal regulation of vapes, many schools take it upon themselves to enact more stringent policies. Schools have started suspending students, putting monitors in bathrooms, and sometimes even requiring drug testing for those found with e-cigarettes, since marijuana can be smoked using a vape. However, the effect of stricter school policies on reduced use is still largely unknown.

One thing we know for certain is that although cigarette use and popularity has drastically declined from a century ago, more than 3 million middle school and high school students still smoke regular cigarettes. A recent published study indicated how 12th grade e-cigarette smokers were 4 times more likely to use cigarettes, a year after indicating they had never smoked cigarettes before. Thus, a growing population of nicotine-addicted youth is possible, making it even more imperative that local, state, and national-level administrators take action in policy and research--either by further regulating the tobacco industry, or studying the health effects of e-cigarettes. Some states, like California, recently raised the age to buy e-cigarettes from 18 to 21, indicating a step in the right direction. Here is to hoping more states will follow.