E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, are designed to provide doses of vaporized nicotine to users when activated. Some current research indicates that these devices may prove useful as nicotine replacement products for people trying to quit smoking. However, other research indicates that the devices may serve as gateways for further nicotine use among teenagers and younger children. The results from two independent surveys published in December 2013 shed some insight on how doctors and parents of teenage children feel about the rise of e-cigarette use.
A typical e-cigarette has several basic components: a small cartridge that holds a supply of nicotine, a chemical that produces an aerosol vapor when heated, and a battery. When a user activates his or her device, its battery heats up the aerosolizing chemical and delivers a nicotine-containing vapor that’s taken into the lungs in the same way a traditional smoker would inhale cigarette smoke. Many e-cigarettes also contain some sort of flavoring in order to make the vapor inhalation process more appealing. In addition, the cartridges used in some brands are known to contain substances that can potentially cause serious harm to human beings; examples of these substances include chemicals capable of causing cancer in other species or genetic damage. As of January 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the sale of e-cigarettes unless a given product is specifically sold as a therapeutic or medical device.
How Do Parents Feel?
Between 2011 and 2012, the use rate for e-cigarettes among American teenagers rose from 3 percent to 7 percent. In November 2013, University of Michigan researchers used an annual project called the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health to examine how parents and other adults across the U.S. feel about the increasing use of e-cigarettes. All told, the survey polled 2,124 adults age 18 and older on these topics. The researchers found that 44% of adults believe e-cigarettes will encourage kids to use tobacco products. They also found that nearly half of all adults (48 percent) are either “somewhat” afraid or “very” afraid that their own children will start using e-cigarettes. In addition, 65 percent of adults believe that e-cigarette manufacturers should follow the same labeling and health warning guidelines as the manufacturers of tobacco cigarettes and other products that include nicotine as an ingredient.
“This poll shows high levels of concern about e-cigarettes and the possibility that kids who try them could start smoking tobacco,” says Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll.
How Do Doctors Feel?
In a study published in December 2013 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers from Ohio State University and the University of North Carolina reported the results of a poll designed to determine how doctors feel about the increasing e-cigarette use among teenagers. Rather than basing their project on a nationwide sample, the researchers gathered survey information from 561 medical professionals in Minnesota that included pediatricians, general physicians and nurse practitioners.
The results of the survey indicated that about 11 percent of the respondents had treated at least one teen who used e-cigarettes. In most cases, the doctors and nurse practitioners did not obtain their knowledge of e-cigarettes from research or other professional outlets; instead, they gathered their knowledge from ads, stories printed by journalists and their own patients. While many of the survey respondents expressed some concern that e-cigarettes might function as a trigger for future tobacco intake, the group as a whole expressed a fairly low level of comfort over the idea of discussing the subject with either teenagers or teenagers’ parents. The highest level of comfort appeared among general physicians; general physicians also had an overall higher level of knowledge regarding e-cigarettes than either pediatricians or nurse practitioners.
A clear majority of the parents and other adults responding to the University of Michigan survey supported the introduction of laws to block the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, limit social media-based advertising by e-cigarette manufacturers and establish strict safety standards for all e-cigarette brands sold in the U.S. Fully 92 percent of the healthcare professionals polled in the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health expressed a desire to increase their understanding of the facts regarding e-cigarettes. The authors of that study note that future public health efforts may need to start outlining procedures specifically designed to prevent or deter e-cigarette use.
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