According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week, the percentage of middle and high school students who have tried electronic cigarettes more than doubled in the U.S. from 2011 to 2012. All of the major news networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, USA Today, etc.) pounced on this story, sparking even more public fears about e-cigarettes. Despite the fact that e-cigs lack the hundreds of harmful chemicals found in traditional cigarettes and don’t produce any tar or ash, the media seems bent on swaying public opinion and forcing lawmakers to do something about these popular devices.
The survey found that 10% of high school students had tried electronic cigarettes in 2012, more than doubling from 4.7% in 2011, along with a jump from 1.4% to 2.7% among middle school students. It went on to mention other related statistics that show that teenagers are experimenting with these devices more-and-more.
Should We Be Surprised?
We’re not going to debate whether or not electronic cigarettes are dangerous, but is it any surprise that teenagers are experimenting with a new and trendy product? Teens were a big part of the electronic revolution, making texting, cell phones and ipods a part of our everyday lives. Electronic cigarettes are touted as the ‘wave of the future’ when it comes to smoking, and whether we like it our not, teens smoke cigarettes – a lot of them. It should be no surprise that teenagers are trying these new products, and they may actually be doing less harm in the process.
It’s Not Just Teenagers
As shocking as these statistics may seem, and we definitely don’t condone e-cig use among teenagers, the CDC found similar results just a few months ago when it conducted a survey of adult users. In the survey, they found that one in five adult smokers in the United States had tried electronic cigarettes in 2011, or 21% of the adult smoking population, more than doubling from 10% in 2010. Overall, around six percent of all adults in the U.S. have tried e-cigarettes, also doubling since 2010.
With something as new and controversial as electronic cigarettes, it stands to reason that people are curious. Teenagers, by nature, are curious and are known to experiment – whether it’s with something harmless like clothing, or more serious items like drugs and alcohol. With this thought in mind, it’s actually quite shocking that adults, who tend to be a little more set in their ways, have taken to e-cigarettes so quickly – doubling in numbers just like teenagers.
Targeting the Youth? Really?
Many of the news outlets covering the story went on to suggest that electronic cigarette companies
are purposely targeting teens with their catchy and stylish TV ads featuring celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Stephen Dorff and Courtney Love. In one example, USA Today quoted Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who said:
“These ads portray e-cigarette use as an act of rebellion, much like cigarette ads have done,” and that “the sweet flavors of some e-cigarettes, such as chocolate and “cherry crush,” lure youth.”
Maybe it’s just us, but did anyone notice that the people being featured in these ads are ‘B-list’ celebrities from the 90s? Most teenagers weren’t even born when they became famous, let alone know their names. Sounds to us like e-cig companies are targeting Generation X-ers in their 30s and 40s. And since when don’t adults like tasty flavors like cherry, vanilla and chocolate? Ice cream companies must also be guilty of targeting children with their high calorie, fat-filled treats.
What We Should Do About It
By no means are we saying that people shouldn’t be concerned about teenage e-cigarette use, and we fully support any regulations that are put in-place to prevent sales to minors. Right now, several states have laws in-place to prevent teens from buying e-cigs (AZ, MD, NH and WA) and many more have plans in the works. Although we’re pretty confident that e-cigs are a healthier and safer alternative than smoking tobacco cigarettes, no one knows about the true long-term impacts yet, and anything that has the slightest possibility of causing harm should be approached cautiously.
For adults, the choice seems obvious. You can smoke tobacco laced with toxic carcinogens, tar and ash. Or, you can get your fix from vaporized nicotine, lacking the barrage chemicals and virtually odorless. Teenagers don’t have the same options since tobacco use is illegal, and e-cigs should fall into the same category – not fit for use by minors. But teenagers continue to use tobacco, even though it’s illegal, and they’re likely to keep using e-cigarettes – whether regulations are in-place or not.