Last week, TAC Staff attended the annual Tobacco-Free Alliance of Pierce County, or TAP, Summit. This was a great opportunity to learn more about how tobacco and tobacco products are affecting youth near our area. It's a given Tacoma is considerably bigger than all Pacific County put together, however, if youth in Pierce County are experimenting with e-cigarettes, there is a good chance it will soon become popular in our area.
Some of you may be wondering, "what exactly is an 'e-cigarette'?" E-cigarette stands for electronic cigarette. These devices are made up of three basic components: a power source, typically a battery, an e-liquid that contains nicotine and atomizer (a device that emits liquid, as a fine spray. Think of how perfume works).
Photos are courtesy of Dr. Lynne Dawkins.
Within the e-cigarettes is something referred to as vapor or e-liquid. The components of these liquids are: propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavoring. Research has shown that the nicotine levels can vary from 6-36 mg/l; and even though users can find nicotine free brands, tests are showing traces of nicotine can still be found within the vapor.
So, how do e-cigarettes affect youth? Well, the nearly 8,000 flavors are a good starting point. These flavors can range anywhere from caramel, cheesecake, gummy bear and even chocolate. Not to mention the 'smoke' that is formed from the device smells like candy. During a youth panel at the TAP Summit, it was revealed that students are using e-devices because adults cannot detect the smell of the candy scented vapor on their clothing.
The marketing aspects of e-cigarettes are very similar to the marketing used for tobacco. According to the National Cancer Institute, there has been a 256% increase in e-cigarette advertising since 2011. It's not a secret that tobacco and nicotine companies find specific ways to target adolescents in their advertising. With themes like "sex and glamour", "freedom and rebellion" and even "fun and healthy", researchers are discovering 31% of youth think e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes. However, at least 50% of youth have yet to form an opinion regarding the dangers of e-cigarettes.
At this point, there are only state and local regulations that are preventing 'sales' to minors. There are proposed FDA regulations that will prohibit all sales to minors, but for now, it is just a proposal. There isn't much information regarding the long term health risks around this emerging market. However, this doesn't mean there won't be any dangers and it definitely doesn't mean youth should be using them. These products are evolving in more ways than one; now is the time to start the discussion with youth regarding the hazards of e-cigarettes.
Facts and research from this blog were on behalf of Dr. Jessica K. Pepper, Center for Regulatory Research on Tobacco Communication. University of North Carolina.