Prall: Regulate e-cigs for teens, not college students

BY JACOB PRALL | APRIL 21, 2015 5:00 AM

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New research has been released on e-cigarettes, on the heels of the UI decision to ban these devices on campus as “tobacco products.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 2013 and 2014, e-cigarette use among middle- and high-school students nearly tripled. In 2013, an estimated 4.5 percent of teens had tried an e-cig. In 2014, the number was 13.4 percent.

The steep incline of use, both among teens and the overall populace, leaves many musing not only on the health risks but the social implications of e-cigarette usage and marketing.

The industry itself is booming. Global sales have risen from 1.5 billion in 2012 to 3.5 billion in 2013 to an estimated 7 billion in 2014. It appears the e-cigarette business is the one to be in right now.

Such a sudden, massive uptake by the general populace is actually generating some very positive results. Among them, traditional cigarette use among teens is down. Combustible cigarette use dropped 3 percent over a one-year span, and e-cigarette use for the first time has overtaken traditional cigarette use among young adults, according to the CDC.

E-cigarettes aren’t without their share of risks. For one, their nicotine content is often higher than traditional cigarettes. This translates to more kids becoming addicted to nicotine, a substance that affects brain development. Many also believe that the influx of nicotine-addicted youth may result in an eventual increase in traditional cigarette use.

Mitch Zeller, the director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, sees the rise as reason for the agency to become more involved in the tobacco industry, a place where Congress gave it jurisdiction in 2009.

“In today’s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace, the surge in youth use of novel products like e-cigarettes forces us to confront the reality that the progress we have made in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates is being threatened,” he said in a statement. “These staggering increases in such a short time underscore why FDA intends to regulate these additional products to protect public health.”

And it seems logical that the FDA should regulate e-cigarettes, as their popularity with youth is the most troubling concern. Many have accused the e-cigarette industry for targeting consumers younger than the legal age to purchase such products, with candy flavors like “unicorn puke.” This mildly gross title is certainly aimed at teens looking to be cool, but it’s hard not to associate products that delve into the realm of unicorns as intended for children.

Nicotine isn’t the only threat to the health of the e-cigarette smoker, either. According to a recent study by Portland State University, the “flavor components of e-cigarettes often contain concentrations of aldehydes, a compound class recognized as ‘primary irritants’ of mucosal tissue of the respiratory tract.”

With all this in mind, one has to go back and ask, “Is it right for the UI to ban e-cigarettes?” Based on current evidence, absolutely not. That doesn’t mean caution should not be applied to these products. One still has to be 18 to purchase, and the real focus should be on education and prevention in high schools and middle schools.

We’re in college; the university shouldn’t mother us. The attention should be toward those who do need a level of mothering and who are too young to make decisions that could affect their lungs and brains later in life.

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