Teenagers are impressionable when it comes to e-cigarettes, new research suggests.
Nearly four out of 10 U.S. teens who use e-cigarettes said seeing others vape led them to try the devices themselves, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Tempting flavors and the belief that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional smokes are the other top draws for kids, the researchers found.
Electronic cigarettes are the most commonly used form of tobacco among middle school and high school students, the report noted. The U.S. Surgeon General has declared their use by young people a public health concern.
"Continued efforts are important to further reduce all forms of tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes, among U.S. youths," the researchers wrote in the report. The team was led by Dr. James Tsai, of the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Although the battery-powered products vary, e-cigarettes contain a heating element that produces an inhalable vapor.
To shed light on their use by young people, the researchers analyzed data from a 2016 national survey of middle school and high school students.
The investigators found that 39 percent of those who'd tried e-cigarettes said that use by a "friend or family member" was the reason.
Almost one-third said that enticing "flavors such as mint, candy, fruit or chocolate" led them to try vaping.
A smaller percentage -- 17 percent -- figured e-cigarettes would be safer than other forms of tobacco, such as cigarettes, the findings showed.
However, there's mounting evidence that e-cigarettes aren't harmless. The Surgeon General has determined that the devices can contain harmful components, including nicotine. Besides being addictive, nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain, the authors noted in the report.
In addition, a recent study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine showed that e-cigarettes often lead young users to conventional tobacco.
That report concluded that the effects on children who start smoking tobacco because of e-cigarettes won't be seen for many years. Over the next 50 years, it said, e-cigarettes could have a negative public health impact.
To stem e-cigarette use, the new report calls for a combination of federal regulation and prevention strategies.
"Regulation of the manufacturing, distribution and marketing of tobacco products by the Food and Drug Administration, along with sustained implementation of comprehensive tobacco control and prevention strategies, could reduce e-cigarette use and initiation by middle school and high school students," the researchers concluded.
A New York tobacco expert said that widespread education with media campaigns is needed to educate youth and adults about the potential harm of e-cigarettes.
"The kid-friendly flavoring chemicals in e-cigarettes are not only contributing to use among young people, but also have a damaging effect on the lungs, with recent studies indicating that mixing flavors can be even more harmful to users," said Patricia Folan, director of Northwell Health's Center for Tobacco Control in Great Neck, N.Y.
Kids are getting mixed messages about the safety and harms of vaping, another specialist said.
"Unfortunately, even among health professionals there is no clear consensus on their safety," said Dr. Walter Chua, a lung specialist at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, a hospital in New York City.
Many practitioners tout e-cigarettes as a smoking-cessation aide and view it as the lesser evil, he said, while others believe the data is incomplete on their harms.
"When you have no clear consensus among physicians about the safety of using electronic cigarettes in their adult patients, how can you expect young adults not to use it?" he added.
The study findings were published in the CDC's Feb. 16 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about young people and e-cigarettes.
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