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Teens and tobacco: Your questions answered

Teenager Offering Cigarette

We all know that tobacco is a leading cause of cancer, heart disease, and stroke but is that message getting through the our children and grandchildren. There is a new survey from researchers at the CDC and the FDA looking at just that. Dr Michael White, from the UConn School of Pharmacy, stopped by FOX 61’s Good Day Connectictut to tell us what we need to know.

The study assessed middle school and high school children and asked whether children were using or curious about using cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. For the most recent two years they have data on, 2012 to 2014, student reported ever using cigarettes fell from 26.4 percent to 22.4 percent while cigar use fell from 21.2 percent to 17.6 percent. Fewer students also reported be curious about what it would be like to smoke cigarettes or cigars. That is the good news. The bad news is that there was no change in the use of chewing tobacco and smokeless tobacco products.

Given the harm that these products can cause and how addictive they are, that is a good sign. What about the use of e-cigarettes, are use of these products going down?

This study just started evaluating whether people are curious about e-cigarettes in 2014 so they have no comparative data but in 2014 they found that 11% of middle school and high school students were definitely or probably interested in e-cigarettes which is the same as the percentage of students who were curious about regular cigarettes. Other studies suggest that the number of people using e-cigarettes, including children, are on the rise in the United States and are seen as a safer alternative to smoking.

Are e-cigarettes safer?

There are no long term safety data with e-cigarettes but given what is inside of them, they are likely safer than cigarettes but they are likely not as safe as not using them at all. Children are a vulnerable population and preventing them from accessing and using nicotine containing products with their high abuse potential should be an important public health goal. Flavorings and scents added to the products like bubble-gum seem to be an inducement to children to try them and we should think long and hard about that.