Percentage Of U.S. Teens Using E-Cigarettes Doubles

The percentage of U.S. middle and high school students who use electronic cigarettes more than doubled form 2011 to 2012, according to a new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. The percentage of middle and high school students who use electronic cigarettes has more than doubled. That's according to a report out today from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. As NPR's Patti Neighmond reports, federal health officials are worried about the safety and addictive potential of E-cigarettes.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: The CDC surveyed kids in schools across the country, giving them questionnaires about their use of cigarettes, both electronic and tobacco. Students were in grades six through 12. While the use of E-cigarettes is still relatively low, CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden, says the increase in the numbers of kids using them is alarming. Among high school students, for example, use rose from about 5 percent in 2011 to 10 percent the following year.

TOM FRIEDEN: Bottom line is that use of E-cigarettes among youth has been skyrocketing. It doubled in just one year and there are now more than 1.75 million high school and middle school kids who've tried an E-cigarette. That's way too many.

NEIGHMOND: E-cigarettes don't burn tobacco. Instead, a battery heats up liquid nicotine and turns it into a vapor that's inhaled into the lungs. Frieden says the problem is nicotine is addictive.

FRIEDEN: And that means that they may progress to smoking conventional cigarettes and we may be seeing the next generation of kids getting hooked on nicotine and condemned to struggling with addiction for many years to both E-cigarettes and of much greater concern, conventional cigarettes.

NEIGHMOND: In fact, the CDC survey found the vast majority of kids who used E-cigarettes also used conventional cigarettes. Now, E-cigarettes are being promoted as a way to help people kick the habit. Many people think they're safer than conventional cigarettes because they don't contain all the same harmful chemicals, but we don't know that, says Frieden, nor do we know whether they help people quit smoking tobacco. The research just hasn't been done.

FRIEDEN: There are more than 200 brands out there on the market and they're all different. So, what they contain and what kind of toxicities they have are going to be different as well.

NEIGHMOND: E-cigarettes aren't subject to the same restrictions that apply to tobacco cigarettes. There's no extra taxes or rules about advertising and minors can just go into a store and purchase them. Danny McGoldrick, with the Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids, says companies are taking advantage of that and marketing directly to kids.

DANNY GOLDRICK: The themes of those promotions are also eerily and scarily similar to what we've seen for cigarettes and smokeless tobacco over the years. The use of glamour and sex, and particularly rebellion. It's a way for kids to make their first step towards independence in those adolescent years. Their own industry quotes say, you know, I'm no longer my parents' child. This is the way that I express my independence.

NEIGHMOND: The Altria Group is one of the nation's largest tobacco companies and like other big tobacco companies, it's recently gotten into the business of selling E-cigarettes. Spokesperson David Sylvia says the company does not target kids. It markets all of its products, he says, to adults.

DAVID SYLVIA: Importantly, we have actively supported passing state legislation that establishes minimum purchase age laws for E-cigarettes, similar to what is currently in place for cigarettes and smokeless tobacco and cigars.

NEIGHMOND: So far, 21 states currently restrict sales of E-cigarettes to minors. Other states are considering doing the same. Nationwide, public health advocates want to see more research into the safety of electronic cigarettes and more regulation. The FDA is currently considering whether and how much to regulate electronic cigarettes and whether to apply the same restrictions on advertising and sales that are now in place for conventional tobacco cigarettes. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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