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Middle Schoolers Are Smoking Electronic Cigarettes

Yesterday, the American Lung Association warned that middle and high school children are smoking electronic cigarettes at a "troubling" rate.

Data released from the Centers for Disease Control shows that between 2011-2012, the number of 6-12th graders reporting having ever used an e-cigarette more than doubled -- from 3.3 percent to 6.8 percent. Use of e-cigs among 6-12 year olds increased from 1.1 percent to 2.1 percent. (Six-year-olds???!!!) Twenty percent of the middle schoolers who admitted smoking e-cigs said they had never smoked a traditional cigarette, compared to 7.2 percent of high school students.

E-cigarettes are not just plain water vapor, as some people mistakenly believe.

The devices typically contain so-called "e juice" -- typically propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and flavorings, plus pure nicotene. But e-juices are not regulated. No one oversees what goes in them, or who makes them, or under what conditions. Even though vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol are FDA-approved in foods, studies are scant about what happens if these substances are inhaled.

All year, people in the e-cigarette industry have been waiting for the FDA to come up with proposed regulations for regulation of the juices, and for the sale of e-cigarettes.

The Lung Association warns that this is a new route for kids to get addicted to nicotene.

From a statement:

These troubling numbers highlight the urgent need for the Obama Administration to move forward with regulating e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. None of these products are currently under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). E-cigarettes are sold in dozens of flavors that appeal to kids, including cotton candy, bubble gum, Atomic Fireball, and orange cream soda. Because e-cigarettes are a relatively new tobacco product, most states do not have laws prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to kids. One recent study estimated that there are over 250 different e-cigarette brands for sale today, over half of which offered fruit and candy flavors. The three major cigarette companies now also sell e-cigarette products.

A group called the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association has argued that fears about electronic cigarettes are largely overblown. The group lobbies to keep them legal and readily available, at least for adults, because they are a great tool for weaning people off deadly conventional cigarettes.

That group's president, Elaine Keller, says that the CDC's news about kids trying e-cigs is alarmist -- but CASAA is in favor of laws that prevent the sale of e-cigarettes to minors anyway.

The group's legislative director Greg Conley released a statement:

Three habit descriptors are typically surveyed when asking about tobacco or drug use -- ever use, past 30 day use, and daily use. It is daily use that is clearly correlated with youth continuing to use the products rather than just experimenting a few times. Real public health practitioners and policymakers should not allow experimentation by youth to cloud their judgment about the great health benefits experienced by adult smokers who switch to e-cigarettes.

State lawmakers should continue to pass and enforce bills banning e-cigarette sales to minors, but should resist calls by misguided organizations to enact further restrictions on these life-saving products.

Keller said the FDA's draft industry regulations are now expected in October.

Of course, any new technology can spur unforeseen consequences. Some experimenters have discovered that electronic cigarettes are a creative new way to smoke hash oil. And authorities from high schools in California -- where medicinal marijuana is legal -- have warned that e-cigs' smokeless technology makes it easy for teenagers there to smoke hash oil in class when the teacher's back is turned.

The Lung Association isn't saying anything about that so far. (And Keller says that you'd need special equipment to smoke hash from an electronic cigarette anyway, because it gums up the parts.)

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Deirdra Funcheon

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