The newest e-cigarettes have “natural” flavors like mango, clementine, guava and vanilla bean, so they can’t be all that bad for those smoking them, right? Wrong.
“Flavorings disproportionately attract teens to the e-cigarette market and are the leading reason teens continue to use them,” says Mary Cataletto, MD, a pediatric pulmonary specialist at NYU Winthrop. “The brain continues to develop throughout adolescence and into young adulthood and is particularly vulnerable to the addictive effects of nicotine. As a teen’s need for nicotine increases with repeated exposure, he or she is more likely to move on to conventional tobacco products – and on to potentially chronic tobacco use.”
Consider that tobacco exposure remains the most preventable cause of illness, disability and death among adults in the U.S., and internationally, it’s the number one cause of preventable death. Each year, half of adult smokers try to quit, but only a very small percentage succeed. Then consider an FDA survey in 2017, which showed that more than two million middle and high school students in the U.S. had used e-cigarettes in the prior 30 days. With more than 7,500 different “natural” flavors and aromas to choose from, manufacturers have targeted teen markets, resulting in a significant rise in their use of e-cigarettes over conventional tobacco products.
In fact, studies have shown that many youths believe that e-cigs – which go by other names like vapes, e-hookahs and Juul – are safer and more socially acceptable than conventional cigarettes, bearing less of a stigma. Flavored e-cigs often serve as a teen’s “initiation” into tobacco products, made appealing by the availability and novelty of multiple flavors and the ability to personalize them with their favorite flavors.
In a recent session at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST), Dr. Cataletto, Chair of the Pediatric Network of CHEST, highlighted key recommendations of the International Forum of Respiratory Societies, which include:
- Flavorings should be banned in electronic nicotine-delivery products.
- Sales of electronic cigarettes should be barred to youths worldwide.
- All forms of electronic cigarette promotion must be regulated, and any advertising in media that is accessible to youths should cease.
- Smoke-free policies should include prohibitions on e-cigs in indoor locations, public parks, and places where children and youths are present.
Dr. Cataletto reminds our communities here on Long Island that even though the sale of electronic cigarettes is banned to minors, middle and high school students can, and do, access them in alarming numbers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently pursuing actions aimed at addressing the issue of flavorings in e-cigarettes to help curb use in minors. Further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes in smoking cessation efforts, a concept aggressively promoted in the adult population, though studies as to the effectiveness of this approach have been unconvincing.
For information on NYU Winthrop’s free six-week Tobacco Cessation program call 1-866-WINTHROP.