- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2014

The burgeoning popularity of electronic cigarettes is prompting public health officials to step up their investigation of how teens are responding to the new tobacco-free products.

Already, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has seen a jump in “vaping” among young people — a youth tobacco survey issued in 2013 said that the number of high-school students who ever used an e-cigarette rose from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012.

More than 1.78 million middle- and high-school students tried e-cigarettes in 2012, the CDC said.

More data are coming Tuesday, when the nation’s time-tested survey of middle- and high-school students releases its first finding on e-cigarettes, as well as new data on teen drug, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use.

This is the first year the Monitoring the Future survey, which started in 1975 and this year surveyed more than 41,000 students, asked about e-cigarettes, said the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

E-cigarettes — which do not use burned tobacco, but permit people to inhale vapors that are often nicotine-infused — are intended as adult products, but surveys are showing that teens are flocking to these electronic devices.

There is great concern about what will happen with young e-cigarette users, Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of NIDA, said in an interview on Monday.

Will it inspire some teens to “take up the nicotine habit, and over time, not only use these electronic devices but progress to the traditional [tobacco] cigarettes, which have known, extremely serious health consequences?” he asked.

Teen exposure to nicotine is especially worrisome because of brain development, said Dr. Compton.

Nicotine is a toxic substance, and use of nicotine — even in products that people don’t think of as harmful or dangerous — could set these young people up “for a lifelong pattern of addiction” to either nicotine and other tobacco products, or other substances, he said.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a proposed rule regulating the registration, marketing and packaging labels for e-cigarettes, but it has not been finalized yet.

A debate has emerged about whether the electronic products — which are often made by the major tobacco companies — are a smoking-cessation tool for smokers or a “gateway” product to ease people into a tobacco cigarette habit.

The e-cigarette industry, which started less than a decade ago, is said to exceed $2 billion.

Their products are typically a battery-charged device that lets people puff heated, atomized, flavored “vapors” from selected cartridges. These liquid cartridges come in many flavors — such as chocolate, vanilla, mint and clove — and have nicotine levels that range from “none” to 2.4 percent.

One popular product called “blu” has a “glowing” blue light at the end of the device that responds to each puff and will “flash rapidly” when the e-cig needs recharging, according to Lorillard Technologies Inc.

Cartridges may be disposable or refillable.

On Monday, New York news media reported that a toddler died last week after swallowing “liquid nicotine” that could be associated with e-cigarettes. The child may be the first person to die from “liquid nicotine poisoning,” according to reports, which prompted calls for childproof packaging for these products.

There have been 3,638 “exposures” to e-cigarette devices and liquid nicotine as of Nov. 30, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) said. The term “exposure” means someone has had contact with the substance in some way — ingested, inhaled or absorbed by the skin or eyes — said the AAPCC, adding that not all exposures are poisonings or overdoses.

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