Teens enticed by e-cigarettes; FDA slow to regulate product

Amber Buhagiar, Editor-in-Chief & Entertainment Editor

e-cigarette-woman-131114Teenagers’ shopping lists often consist of the raved about smartphone, brand new running shoes… and cigarettes?  The small price tag may be to blame.

A recent article in “The Record” states that San Joaquin County has the lowest cigarette price at $3.77 per pack in California.  At more than 50¢ lower than the average cost of one pack, many are wondering if the low cost makes cigarettes more accessible, especially to teens.

“Kids that want cigarettes will buy them at any price if they have the opportunity,” Counselor Ivan Tunnell said.  “No matter the price on cigarettes, I think enforcing the minimum age requirement is where the focus should be.”

Although the low price may make it easier for individuals to purchase cigarettes, a new trend toward tobacco-free e-cigarettes has become popular among teenagers.

E-cigarettes are battery operated devices bearing the resemblance of conventional cigarettes, but they do not burn tobacco.  Rather, they deliver a vapor containing nicotine, flavor, and other chemicals.  A starter kit usually includes two e-cigarettes, extra batteries, and various nicotine cartridges.

Originally, the e-cigarettes were marketed to the general public as a way for individuals to wean off conventional cigarettes.  But more often than not, individuals smoke them recreationally.

“It sounds like a less harmful substitute for cigarettes,” Ivan Tunnell said, “but I’m concerned there may be less of a stigma attached to smoking.”

According to an article in “The Los Angeles Times,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “estimates that 10 percent of American high school students and nearly 3 percent of middle school students used e-cigarettes in 2012.”  In fact, a recent survey conducted by the CDC found that about four in five middle school students who reported using e-cigarettes said they tried conventional cigarettes.

Opponents are concerned because the e-liquids are not yet regulated by federal authorities, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The debate over the FDA regulations have led many to question the efficacy of selling these cigarettes to minors and many are saying they should be banned. Some teens disagree.

“I think e-cigarettes should not be banned,” junior Brianna Hollenbeck said.  “It [e-cigarettes] will

help people get over their addiction. All the people I know have used e-cigarettes to stop smoking.”

The CDC claims that the liquid nicotine may cause damage to body parts, specifically eyes and skin.  In February 2014, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality report found that common side effects reported to poison control centers included “nausea, vomiting, and eye irritation.”

Though e-cigarettes are less toxic than tobacco-containing cigarettes, the vapor inhaled still contains nicotine—a drug that acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system.  A study conducted at UCLA found that teens addicted to nicotine had less activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain related to decision making.  Because the prefrontal cortex continues to develop during adolescence, nicotine use in the form of smoking may affect brain development.

Larger cities have already implemented bans on e-cigarettes.  Los Angeles, for example, probits e-cigarette use in restaurants and outdoor areas like parks.

Whether state wide legislation will be passed on e-cigarette use has not yet been discussed.

“We just need to continue informing society and our youth specifically about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine,” Tunnell said, “and the many forms that it comes in such as e-cigarettes.”