Use of e-cigarettes by teenagers has been rising steadily each year. But new survey findings are alarming: It is estimated that nearly one-third of high-school-aged teens have used e-cigarettes.
In a study to be published in the January 2015 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), researchers surveyed 1,941 high school students in Hawaii in 2013. The students answered questions about their use of e-cigarettes, tobacco cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana.
Researchers also asked the students to answer questions about psychosocial risk factors, such as parental support, academic involvement, peer smoking and other behaviors related to drug or alcohol use.
The findings? Seventeen percent of students reported using e-cigarettes only, 12 percent used both e-cigarettes and cigarettes and 3 percent used cigarettes only.
Why experts are concerned
Research has shown that teens with the higher psychosocial risk factors mentioned above are more likely to pick up a cigarette habit.
What concerns researchers is that the study showed that teens using e-cigarettes are at a lower risk of becoming regular cigarette smokers based on their psychosocial factors. That means that these kids would probably not have become regular cigarette smokers—yet they were drawn to using e-cigarettes.
Cigarette smokers have used e-cigarettes to try and wean themselves from tobacco products. This practice has planted seeds of misconception about e-cigarettes: that they are less harmful than regular cigarettes. But the claims that e-cigarettes can be used to help smokers quit is unproven, according to the American Lung Association.
The growing e-cigarette industry
The search for “new recruits”—new consumers of e-cigarettes—indicates that the largely unregulated e-cigarette industry will continue to grow. The industry is booming, with 90 percent of e-cigarettes produced in China.
A review of manufacturing practices in China published in the Sunday, Dec. 14 New York Times found that while some plants were making efforts at quality control, others had no safety testing of equipment or oversight of materials used. Evidence that some established brands were being counterfeited with cheap parts and materials was also reported in the review.
E-cigarettes contain nicotine; but other harmful chemical ingredients—lead, tin or zinc—have also been found in some products.
What parents need to know
The growth of the e-cigarette market and this new research should be a huge concern for parents, says Kathy Graziano, MD, of Pediatric Surgeons of Phoenix.
Graziano, a member of the AAP’s Arizona chapter, has an interest in substance abuse prevention in addition to her work as a pediatric surgeon. She answered a few questions on what parents need to know about e-cigarettes:
At what age should parents start talking about cigarettes—either e-cigarettes or tobacco?
Parents should start talking to their kids about e-cigarettes during elementary and middle school. The nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive. Kids may perceive that there is less risk and this study highlights the fact that some kids who would not otherwise try drugs would try e-cigarettes.
What is the role of the pediatrician in helping to prevent kids from using e-cigarettes or tobacco cigarettes?
The pediatrician should remember to discuss the risks of e-cigarettes with patients since kids may not see it as a drug and may not admit to trying it when asked if they “smoke.”
This study took place in Hawaii. Do we know anything about the incidence of e-cigarette use in Arizona?
The incidence of drug use is monitored by an anonymous survey. The use of e-cigarettes nationwide has tripled to more than 250,000 kids in 2013. Arizona is not spared and efforts here should be on educating kids and families on the fact that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive and [must] be avoided.
Learn more about e-cigarettes from DrugFreeAZKids.org.