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Know The Risks: E-cigarettes and the youth

Did You Know?

Since e-cigarettes arrived on the market, there's been a lot of buzz about them. In the past several years, many myths, safety concerns, and questions have come up. Let's review some key facts.

Business Trends

E-cigarettes are a 2.5 billion dollar business in the United States. As of 2014, the e-cigarette industry spent $125 million a year to advertise their products and used many of the techniques that made traditional cigarettes such a popular consumer product.

Marketing and advertising of conventional tobacco products like cigarettes are proven to cause youth to use tobacco products. Scientists are also finding that youth who are exposed to e-cigarette advertisements are more likely to use the product than youth who are not exposed.

Usage Trends

Between 2011 and 2018, past-30-day e-cigarette use grew dramatically among middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12) students. E-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product by youth in the United States since 2014. Dual use, or use of e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes by the same person, is common among youth and young adults (ages 18-24).

  • Among middle and high school students, Non-Hispanic White, Hispanic, and older students are more likely to use e-cigarettes than Non-Hispanic Black and younger students.

Appeal to Young People

Youth and young adults cite a variety of reasons for using e-cigarettes. These include:

  • Use by a friend or family member

  • Taste, including the flavors available in e-cigarettes

  • The belief that e-cigarettes are less harmful than other tobacco products

  • Curiosity

Flavored e-cigarettes are very popular among youth and young adults. In 2014, more than 9 of 10 young adult e-cigarette users said they use e-cigarettes flavored to taste like menthol, alcohol, candy, fruit, chocolate, or other sweets. In 2018, more than 6 of 10 high school students who use e-cigarettes said they use flavored e-cigarettes.

Marketing to Youth and Young Adults

E-cigarette marketing, including product design and packaging, appeals to a young audience. For example, many e-cigarettes feature bright colors and fruit, candy, alcohol or other flavors that youth find attractive and interesting.

Many themes in e-cigarette marketing, including sexual content and customer satisfaction, are parallel to themes and techniques that the tobacco industry aimed at youth and young adults in their advertising and promotion of conventional cigarettes.

In 2018, more than 5 in 10 middle school and high school students – more than 14 million youth – said they had seen e-cigarette advertising. Retail stores were the most frequent source of this advertising, followed by the internet, TV and movies, and magazines and newspapers.

Teen Beliefs

Youth tobacco use in any form, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe. A recent national survey showed that about 10% of U.S. youth believe e-cigarettes cause no harm, 62% believe they cause little or some harm, and 28% believe they cause a lot of harm when they are used some days but not every day. In 2014, nearly 20% of young adults believe e-cigarettes cause no harm, more than half believe that they are moderately harmful, and 26.8% believe they are very harmful.

Young people who believe e-cigarettes cause no harm are more likely to use e-cigarettes than those who believe e-cigarettes cause a lot of harm.

Public Health Impact

E-cigarettes pose potential risks to the population as a whole. E-cigarettes could cause public health harm if they:

  • Increase the number of youth and young adults who are exposed to nicotine.

  • Lead non-smokers to start smoking conventional cigarettes and other burned tobacco products such as cigars and hookah.

  • Sustain nicotine addiction so smokers continue using the most dangerous tobacco products – those that are burned – as well as e-cigarettes, instead of quitting completely.

  • Increase the likelihood that former smokers will again become addicted to nicotine by using e-cigarettes, and will start using burned tobacco products again.

This article originally appeared at the Surgeon General website


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