E-cigarettes: Cause For Concern Says Surgeon General

Contributed by Noel Crowley-Bell

In December 2016, the Surgeon General issued a warning and call to action regarding the use of e-cigarettes. The significance of this report is the fact that e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth and young adults. Alaska is not exempt from this fact; in 2015, 18% of high school students reported using e-cigarettes compared to 11% who currently smoke cigarettes.2

There is much to be concerned about in the facts found in the Surgeon General’s report. The report “written and reviewed by more than 150 experts is the first comprehensive federal review of the public health impact on e-cigarettes on U.S. youth and young adults.”1 

“All Americans need to know that e-cigarettes are dangerous to youth and young adults,” said U.S. Surgeon, General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, in releasing the report. “Any tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, is a health threat, particularly to young people.” Of concern is nicotine addiction. “The report finds that, while nicotine is a highly addictive drug at any age, youth and young adults are uniquely vulnerable to the long-term consequences of exposing the brain to nicotine, and concludes that youth use of nicotine in any form is unsafe.”1

The report also states that secondhand aerosol that is exhaled into the air by e-cigarette users can expose others to potentially harmful chemicals. The report notes that the second hand aerosol “can contain ingredients that are harmful and potentially harmful to the public’s health, including: nicotine, ultrafine particles, flavorings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease, volatile organic compounds such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead.”1

The report links youth and young adult use when exposed to e-cigarette advertising which is available through “a wide variety of media channels and approaches that have been used in the past for marketing conventional tobacco products to youth and young adults”.1 The report notes, “In 2014, more than 7 out of 10 middle school students had seen e-cigarette advertising”. 1 This information is connected to an earlier 2012 report which found that “tobacco product advertising causes young people to start using tobacco products”. 1 In reviewing current advertising for e-cigarettes it is easy to recognize “approaches and themes similar to those that were used (in the past) to promote conventional tobacco products” 1.

An additional reason for the rise in use included in the report is the use of flavoring. While the flavoring of conventional tobacco products has been banned since 2009, due to its impact on youth and young adults usage, e-cigarettes currently offer over 7,500 flavors to try.2  The Surgeon General’s report shows “more than 85% of e-cigarette user’s ages 12-17 use flavored e-cigarettes, and flavors are the leading reason for youth use. More than 9 of 10 young adult e-cigarette users said they use e-cigarettes flavored to taste like menthol, alcohol, fruit, chocolate or other sweets”. 1

The report closes with the following statement, “Protecting our nation’s youth from the harms of tobacco and nicotine is a top priority for HHS and this Administration. And this report, outlining the harms of e-cigs and providing clear steps to reduce their impact on our kids, is an important step in our fight,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell. “We cannot let the enormous progress we’ve made toward a tobacco-free generation be undermined by e-cigarettes and other emerging tobacco products.” 1

If you are a parent, teacher or mentor interested in ways you can make a difference I encourage you to visit https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov. Here you can view new interactive website containing key information from the report, written especially for parents and adult influencers of youth, is available at E-cigarettes.SurgeonGeneral.gov.