It's estimated that 45 million Americans smoke cigarettes, and each year about half of them try to kick the habit, which have made the manufacture and sale of next-generation tobacco products—like e-cigarettes— to adults and children big business.
That fact combined with new data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show an alarming increase in e-cigarette use among middle school and high school students in the U.S have prompted a call for regulation of next-generation tobacco products, especially e-cigarettes
The doubling of the use of e-cigarettes among young students revealed in the CDC report prompted the American Lung Association [ALA] to call on the Obama Administration to move forward with regulations for e-cigarettes as well as cigars and other tobacco products.
The definition of an e-cigarette is an electrical device that uses heat to vaporize a nicotine solution into an aerosol mist, which is inhaled as with a regular cigarette. Most electronic cigarettes are portable, self-contained cylindrical devices the size of a ballpoint pen or magic marker.
It should be noted that even if you’re an ex-smoker who smokes e-cigarettes, your insurance company will still consider you a tobacco user, so don't expect your premiums to go down, experts say.
From 2011-2012, the number of students in grades 6-12 reporting having ever used an e-cigarette doubled from 3.3 percent to 6.8 percent. Recent use of e-cigarettes among 6-12 year olds increased from 1.1 percent to 2.1 percent.
"Because these products are so new and there is no federal oversight of them, today’s study is really the first real look we have into e-cigarette use by youth," said Erika Sward, ALA Assistant Vice President for National Advocacy.
This national data and another earlier national study done about e-cigarette awareness and usage by adults is all that's available at this time, Sward said via email to CGE.
Although no state-specific statistics were available at this time, CGE was directed to an Ohio Youth Tobacco Survey performed in 2010 by the Ohio Department of Health that asked for the first time about e-cigarette use among middle and high school students.
In that Ohio survey, 7.7 percent of high school students and 3.3 percent of middle school students said they had used an e-cigarette. RJ Reynolds, a major cigarette manufacturer, has selected Columbus, Ohio as a test market for its new tobacco products. People in Ohio's capital city are introduced RJR's new products before they are available in the rest of the country.
None of these new tobacco products are currently under the authority of the FDA. Meanwhile, the ALA said that e-cigarettes are sold in dozens of flavors that appeal to kids, including cotton candy, bubble gum, Atomic Fireball and orange cream soda. And because e-cigarettes are a relatively new tobacco product, most states do not have laws prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to kids.
This doubling among U.S. middle and high school students during 2011–2012 represents an estimated 1.78 million students having ever used e-cigarettes as of 2012. The CDC report notes that in 2012, an estimated 160,000 students who reported ever using e-cigarettes had never used conventional cigarettes.
This is a serious concern because the overall impact of e-cigarette use on public health remains uncertain, the CDC said. It added, in youths, concerns include the potential negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development as well as the risk for nicotine addiction and initiation of the use of conventional cigarettes or other tobacco products.
Another recent study estimated that there are over 250 different e-cigarette brands for sale today, over half of which offered fruit and candy flavors. The three major cigarette companies now also sell e-cigarette products.
Paul G. Billings, Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Education for the ALA, said, "Using an e-cigarette can begin kids on a lifelong addiction to nicotine and tobacco products. These data show the urgent need for oversight of these products."
Billings underscored the need for the Obama Administration to halt its delay and called on the FDA to propose meaningful regulation of these product to protect to the public health.
According to the The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act), which became law in 2009 and gave FDA immediate authority over cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, the ability to assert authority or "deem" jurisdiction over all other tobacco products, including cigars, e-cigarettes, hookah and pipe tobacco is present and needs to be acted upon.
The CDC study also showed that while e-cigarette use is most common among youth who use traditional cigarettes, a significant percent of youth are only using e-cigarettes, especially among younger age groups. Among middle school students who have ever used an e-cigarette, 20.3 percent said they never smoked a traditional cigarette, compared to 7.2 percent among high school students.
Billings said that by using flavors like bubble gum and cotton candy, cigarette manufacturers are clearly making and marketing e-cigarettes to appeal to children.
There are few who are surprised that an initial study conducted by the FDA in 2009 showed the presence of toxic chemicals and carcinogens. The ALA noted that two previous studies have found formaldehyde, benzene and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (a carcinogen) coming from the secondhand smoke emissions from e-cigarettes.
Sward at the ALA said that the responsibility lies with the Obama Administration and the Food and Drug Administration to begin oversight of these products. "Once e-cigarettes are under FDA’s authority, FDA can require ingredient disclosure, prohibit candy & fruit flavorings such as cotton candy & bubble gum, and to make it illegal to sell these products to people under 18," Sward said.
Just as it is with traditional tobacco products, preventing e-cigarette use among youth must be a joint federal, state and local partnership if it is to succeed, she said, adding, "More must also be done to prevent youth from beginning to use these products – as evidenced by the study that came out today."
Now in its second century, The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease.
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