E-cigarettes leading youth down ‘dangerous path,’ medical professionals warn at congressional briefing
Members of the oncology community convened Wednesday on Capitol Hill for a congressional briefing on e-cigarette and vaping products and their potential to cause a public health crisis among children and young adults in the United States.
The briefing, sponsored by American Association for Cancer Research, included lawmakers and representatives of the NCI, CDC and FDA and covered how tobacco companies are shifting their focus from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes to attract young people.
“The tobacco product landscape is diversifying, and we must, too,” Brian King, PhD, MPH, deputy director for research translation in the Office on Smoking and Health at the CDC, said during the briefing. “We don’t want to be playing a game of public health whack-a-mole when it comes to kids where we have certain products, like cigarettes, decline in use and have other products stay the same or go up in use, like we’ve seen with e-cigarettes.”
More than 3.6 million middle and high school students reported current e-cigarette use in 2018, representing an increase of more than 1.5 million from 2017, according to results of the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
The number of high school students who reported current e-cigarette use, defined as use at least once in the previous 30 days, surged 78% between 2017 and 2018 to approximately 3.05 million. Current e-cigarette use among middle school students rose 48% during that period, to approximately 570,000 students.
The rise in e-cigarette use is associated with a 38% increase in overall tobacco use among high school students and a 29% increase among middle school students in 2018.
“There are no redeeming qualities of these products because nicotine is the common denominator when it comes to e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes,” King said. “Nicotine is highly addictive and can prime the brain for addiction to other drugs.”
E-cigarettes appeal to young people in part because they can be carried around, stored easily and have fruity flavors that come in cartridges designed to look like candy, Margaret Foti, PhD, MD, CEO of AACR, said during the hearing.
“AACR is very concerned that the sleek design and appealing flavors of the latest e-cigarettes are leading young people down the dangerous path of nicotine addiction,” Foti said. “Flavors such as cotton candy and bubble gum attract kids at the middle school and high school levels. Students can easily hide the e-cigarettes and even vape in school. They think it’s fun to do vaping tricks with their friends blowing out the vapor in different shapes.”
In March, the FDA rolled out a proposal that would limit sales of the flavor pods to websites, vape shops and other retailers that impose age restrictions, effectively banning pod-based e-cigarettes from most stores.
However, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois, criticized the FDA during the hearing for not moving quickly enough in limiting the sale of e-cigarettes and fruity flavors that are attractive to children.
He also called on the FDA to stop allowing companies such as Juul Labs Inc., among others, to make statements promoting their products as a healthy alternative to conventional cigarettes.
“The FDA is responsible for regulating e-cigarettes and these insidious flavors, but sadly they are not doing their job,” Durbin said. “Don’t get me wrong, the FDA has issued a lot of press releases and talked a big game about what it plans to do some time in the future. They’ve even sent out strongly worded letters, but these actions are clearly insufficient.” – by John DeRosier