The Food and Drug Administration recently announced new regulations on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), such as vape pens and electronic cigarettes. Anyone who wants to purchase one of these devices must be at least 18 years of age and be able to show valid identification at the time of purchase. Under the regulation, ENDS can’t be given out for free or sold in vending machines accessible to minors.
What are some of the reasons why the FDA moved forward with starting to regulate electronic nicotine delivery? Isn’t tobacco use among teens going down?
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traditional tobacco use among high school students is going down, but e-cigarette use is increasing. Electronic cigarettes have been promoted as a means of smoking cessation, but the harm comes when a teen who never used tobacco decides to start using nicotine.
Traditional cigarettes (and marijuana joints or cigars too) are smoked. When smoked, the person using the drug gets the active ingredient (whether nicotine for cigarettes & cigars or THC in joints) and at the same time they inhale carcinogens such as tar that can lead to lung cancer and other diseases. Electronic cigarettes and vape pens avoid passing along the carcinogens to the user by allowing the user to inhale a vaporized form of active drug. This leads to probable decreases in second hand carcinogens (in second hand smoke) and decreases in carcinogen ingested by the user. For these reasons, e-cigarettes and vaporizers have been advertised as a good way to ‘quit’ smoking.
If something sounds to good to be true, it probably is.
While the risks with carcinogens are decreased, the user is still consuming a drug. In the case of someone who wants to quit smoking cigarettes, they are consuming nicotine. Nicotine has side effects. It is addictive and it affects the cardiovascular system and is associated with heart disease (such as heart attack).
Why should this matter to parents?
Teens may see vaping or e-cigarette use as safe when compared to traditional cigarettes. They don’t smell bad like cigarettes and are presented as a way to quit smoking. However, if a teen starts using an electronic nicotine delivery unit, they are being exposed to an addictive substance and once addicted, they’ll need to continue to use that substance. In the case of nicotine, this means teens who start vaping or using e-cigs may be more likely to start using traditional forms of tobacco. Research is starting to show that this is the case.
In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers found that those high school students who used e-cigarettes were twice as likely to use traditional tobacco compared to students who never used e-cigarettes.
What can parents do?
- Know that it’s not legal to purchase electronic nicotine delivery systems until 18 years of age.
- Talk to your teen about substance use. Everything has a pro and con. Teach them to think critically before trying something just because their friends or peers may say it’s safe
- When you drive by a store advertising e-cigs or vaporizers, start a conversation. Ask their understanding of what electronic cigarettes are. How are they different from traditional cigarettes?