Last week, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy raised the alarm on e-cigarettes and the particular threat e-cigarettes pose to youth. The report, E-cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults, finds that e-cigarettes pack “all the addictive potential of traditional tobacco products,” as well as other dangerous ingredients like heavy metals, ultrafine particles, and chemicals linked to deadly lung diseases.
E-cigarettes pose the greatest risk to youth and young adults. According to Murthy, “no matter how it's delivered, nicotine is harmful for youth and young adults,” since nicotine can damage developing brains and set young people up for lifelong addictions. Today, the use of e-cigarettes is higher among high school students than among adults, with more than three million middle school and high school youth reporting ‘vaping’ regularly in 2015. Tobacco industry tactics to hook youth on e-cigarettes have been successful – from selling e-cigarette cartridges in candy flavors (favored by more than 85% of youth e-cigarette users) to marketing e-cigarettes (spending $125 million on marketing in 2014 alone) using celebrities, targeted ad placements, and branding designed to appeal to kids.
We applaud the Surgeon General’s focus on this important issue. As policymakers and the public health community develop policies to protect youth from the dangers of e-cigarettes, the Surgeon General’s warning makes a powerful case for strengthening existing e-cigarette regulations to ban flavor cartridges and marketing tactics that draw kids, and to extend smoke-free policies to cover the use of e-cigarettes.