Sep. 5 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Providing the first national data on youth use of electronic cigarettes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today reported that the percentage of U.S. middle and high school students who used e-cigarette more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. According to results from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of high school students who reported ever using e-cigarettes jumped from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012, while the percentage using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days rose from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent. Use also doubled among middle school students. The CDC estimated that 1.78 million U.S. youth had ever used e-cigarettes as of 2012
These results are alarming, but not surprising. E-cigarettes are sold in an assortment of sweet, kid-friendly flavors including “vivid vanilla,” “cherry crush” and chocolate, and they increasingly are marketed using themes and images long used to market regular cigarettes to kids. While e-cigarette manufacturers claim they only market to existing smokers, the new CDC data show their marketing is enticing kids to start what could become a lifelong addiction to tobacco products. The e-cigarette industry portrays itself as wanting to help solve the tobacco problem, but its marketing is reminiscent of the tobacco industry in its worst days.
Given these survey results, it is deeply disturbing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken so long to regulate e-cigarettes. The FDA must act without delay to assert jurisdiction over e-cigarettes and take steps to prevent their marketing and sale to kids. FDA regulation is also necessary to prevent unproven or deceptive health claims about e-cigarettes; set standards for their contents, including levels of highly addictive nicotine; and better understand the health risks they may pose. The FDA announced in December 2010 that it intended to regulate e-cigarettes under the 2009 law granting the agency authority over tobacco products. But nearly three years later, it has yet to act.
It is also important that states apply their laws governing cigarettes and other tobacco products to e-cigarettes, including laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to kids.
In a particularly troubling finding, the CDC data show that 1 in 5 middle school students who reported ever using e-cigarettes say they have never tried regular cigarettes. This indicates that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to nicotine addiction and use of other tobacco products, including cigarettes.
While today’s CDC report provides the first national data on youth e-cigarette use, recently released data from Florida indicates youth e-cigarette use has continued to increase in the past year. The 2013 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey found that 12.1 percent of high school students had ever tried an e-cigarette, an increase of 102 percent since 2011, while 5.4 percent had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, an increase of 74 percent since 2011.
This jump in youth e-cigarette use comes as marketing for e-cigarettes has skyrocketed and increasingly uses the same slick tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids. Like cigarette ads of old, television and online ads for e-cigarettes feature catchy slogans and celebrity endorsers, such as actor Stephen Dorff and TV personality Jenny McCarthy for blu eCigs and rock musician Courtney Love for NJOY. These ads portray e-cigarette use as an act of rebellion, much like cigarette ads have long done. Magazine ads for e-cigarettes feature today’s equivalents of the Marlboro Man and the Virginia Slims woman, depicting e-cigarette use as masculine, sexy or glamorous. While cigarette manufacturers can no longer sponsor auto racing or other events or use candy and fruit flavors, e-cigarette manufacturers are doing both. The web site for blu eCigs has even featured a cartoon pitchman named “Mr. Cool.” E-cigarette marketing is certain to increase now that the three largest tobacco companies – Altria/Philip Morris, Reynolds American and Lorillard – have entered the market.
This explosion of e-cigarette marketing threatens to undo decades of efforts to deglamorize smoking to kids. It’s no wonder youth e-cigarette use is on the rise. It’s time for the FDA and the states to take action to protect our kids.
The new CDC report was published in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.