clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

High schoolers are ditching cigarettes — but embracing e-cigarettes

  1. The number of middle and high school students reportedly using e-cigarettes tripled between 2013 and 2014, according to a new national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Public health advocates worry that e-cigarettes, which heat up liquid nicotine that's inhaled in vapor form, could pose unknown health risks to users, since so little remains known about their long-term health effects.
  3. CDC director Tom Frieden said in a statement that the increase in e-cigarette consumption should concern parents: "We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette, or cigar. Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use."
  4. The good news: the number of middle and high school students smoking conventional cigarettes continued its long-term decline, with 9.2 percent of students reporting conventional cigarette use in the past 30 days in 2014, compared with 12.7 percent in 2013.

E-cigarettes may be safer than cigarettes — but they're not harmless

Do e-cigarettes reduce the number of smokers, or do they attract new customers?

e-cigarette vape

An e-cigarette user blows out vapor. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Even if e-cigarettes are somewhat harmful, they could improve public health if they replace conventional cigarette use. The idea is that cigarettes are so unhealthy — they kill more than 480,000 people a year in the US — that e-cigarettes, even if they're a bit unhealthy, would be a better alternative.

The concern is that e-cigarettes might not be substituting existing tobacco products, but are instead attracting a whole new set of customers, including teens, that would have never used cigarettes in the first place. What's worse, researchers at the University of California in San Francisco explained, using e-cigarettes can get people addicted to nicotine — and that nicotine addiction could eventually lead to conventional smoking.

As Vox's Julia Belluz previously explained, the research on e-cigarettes and their effects is still too early to know whether they will be a public health win. That uncertainty has driven some public health advocates to call on the Food and Drug Administration to take stronger steps to prohibit e-cigarette marketing and sales to teens and children, especially until the science is clearer.

Further reading:

Watch: CDC Director Tom Frieden discusses things Americans could do to live longer

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.