Soaring use of e-cigarettes among young people “is now a major public health concern,” according to a report published Thursday by the U.S. surgeon general. It is the first comprehensive look on the subject from the nation’s highest public-health authority, and it finds that e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youths, surpassing tobacco cigarettes.
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In this Feb. 4, 2014, photo, U.S. Surgeon General appointee Vivek Murthy appears on Capitol Hill in Washington. The U.S. surgeon general is calling e-cigarettes an emerging public health threat to the nation’s youth. In a report being released Thursday, Murthy acknowledges a need for more research into the health effects of “vaping,” but says e-cigarettes aren’t harmless and too many teens are using them.
( The Columbus Dispatch) –E-cigarettes, which turn nicotine into inhalable vapor, can harm developing brains of teenagers who use them and also can create harmful aerosol for people around the user, the equivalent of secondhand smoke, the report said, citing studies in animals.
“Adolescent brains are particularly sensitive to nicotine’s effects” and can experience “a constellation of nicotine-induced neural and behavioral alterations,” the report said. It urged stronger action to prevent young people from getting access to e-cigarettes.
Some researchers have said that e-cigarette use among youth could act as a gateway to traditional smoking, but the report says the relationship is not fully established. Cigarette smoking among youth has fallen sharply in recent years, but use of nicotine products overall remains essentially flat among young people.
With its focus on youth, the report did not address adult use of e-cigarettes, and the most divisive issue of whether the technology is an effective tool to help smokers of traditional cigarettes quit their deadly habit. The report also did not break new scientific ground, but public health advocates said the voice of the surgeon general in the debate marked a milestone.
But there are still many questions that need to be answered when it comes to e-cigarettes, and there is much division among the commercial, public health and policy sectors, said Dr. Peter Shields, deputy director of Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, where researchers are studying the impact of e-cigarettes on lung health as well as the effects of cancer-causing chemicals.
While the report says that e-cigarette use among adolescents and young adults is rapidly increasing, there are different opinions over whether that’s a bad thing, inconsequential or a benefit when it comes to reducing tobacco use overall, Shields said. He advocates restricting all tobacco products from young people.
“We’re in a major experiment right now, and that’s what really the surgeon general’s report highlights, is we need to be thoughtful about this,” Shields said. “I would love nothing more than a way to get kids to stop smoking cigarettes and adults to quit — that’s what I’ve dedicated my life to, so if this is it, great — but we have to figure this out with solid research and not just speculation.”
In a preface to the report, the surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, wrote that e-cigarette use among high school students increased “an astounding 900 percent” from 2011 to 2015. Citing research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the report found that 16 percent of high schoolers used e-cigarettes in 2015, up from 13.4 percent a year earlier. In 2015, nearly 38 percent of high schoolers reported having tried an e-cigarette at least once.
Chief among the concerns raised by the report is simply that “nicotine is a dangerous drug” to the developing brain, said Terry Pechacek, a professor in the school of public health at Georgia State University. It has been shown in animal models that nicotine damages the adolescent brain, he said.
Echoing other research reports, the surgeon general’s report finds that the $3.5 billion e-cigarette industry has mimicked marketing techniques of the tobacco industry that they have “ found to be appealing to youth and young adults.” Of particular concern has been the explosive growth and marketing of flavored e-cigarettes; a study published last month in the journal Pediatrics found that young people who smoked flavored e-cigarettes were more at risk of taking up traditional smoking.