Aug. 25 2014
WASHINGTON, DC – The number of U.S. youth who used electronic cigarettes, but have never smoked a regular cigarette, has more than tripled in the past three years, from 79,000 in 2011 to over 263,000 in 2013. And these youth are nearly twice as likely to intend to smoke regular cigarettes as those who have never used e-cigarettes, according to a CDC study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
These findings are deeply troubling and raise concerns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to nicotine addiction and use of regular cigarettes for some kids. As the CDC noted, it is important to prevent youth use of any product containing nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug and can harm adolescent brain development.
This study shows why it is critical that the FDA quickly finalize its proposed rule to begin regulating e-cigarettes (and other currently unregulated tobacco products) and close gaps in the rule by cracking down on marketing and sweet flavors that appeal to kids. In public comments filed earlier this month, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and 23 other leading public health and medical organizations called on the FDA to issue a final rule by April 25, 2015 – one year after the FDA issued its proposed rule. Our organizations also called on FDA to strengthen its proposed rule by extending current restrictions on cigarette marketing to newly-regulated products, including e-cigarettes, and prohibiting the use of flavorings that appeal to kids.
It’s not surprising that youth use of e-cigarettes has gone up at the same time that e-cigarettes are being promoted using many of the same tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids. These include celebrity endorsements, slick TV and magazine ads that portray e-cigarette use as glamorous and rugged, sponsorships of race cars and music festivals, and sweet flavors such as gummi bear and cotton candy.
Responsibly marketed and properly regulated, e-cigarettes could benefit public health if they help significantly reduce the number of people who use conventional cigarettes and become sick and die as a result. However, they also pose serious potential threats to public health. They could serve as a gateway to nicotine addiction and use of regular cigarettes by kids and other non-users. They could reduce the number of smokers who quit if smokers use them in addition to, and not instead of, regular cigarettes. If they continue to be irresponsibly marketed, they could make smoking look glamorous again and undermine decades of work to reduce youth smoking.
Effective regulation by the FDA and the states is needed to minimize the potential harms of e-cigarettes and maximize any potential benefits.
The CDC study is based on data from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 National Youth Tobacco Surveys of middle and high school students.