A New Epidemic: E-Cigarettes Present Both Pleasing And Troubling Trends

Smoking used to be the ubiquitous symbol for rebelliousness. Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, a shorthand way for any filmmaker or television director to create a rebel character was to give him a cigarette. It’s a classic image of the leather wearing, slick haired, smoking teen. But with the decline of cigarette smoking, it’s a dying image. There’s a new king among teens when it comes to smoking. E-cigarettes.

E-cigarette use has risen sharply in the US, while cigarette use continues to decline. For adults, this is a point to be celebrated. E-cigarettes have finally offered a safer alternative to traditional smoking, leading many adults to quit smoking. One WCC student who wished to remain anonymous said she quit smoking in favor of e-cigarettes. “I used to smoke. I hate smelling like that,” she said. Adults across the country feel the same way, hence why more than half of current cigarette smokers trying to quit are turning to e-cigarettes.

For many, however, the rise of e-cigarettes is not a point to be lauded. It’s to be feared. The FDA recently announced they would begin to crackdown on e-cigarette use and the selling of e-cigarettes to minors. FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, said “the disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we’re seeing in youth […] must end. It’s simply not tolerable.”

While the benefit of e-cigarettes for adults is evident by the number of adults who’ve quit smoking on favor of it, the harm it presents to children leaves much to be desired. According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, almost twenty percent of high school students use e-cigarettes, more than the amount of high school students who smoke traditional cigarettes.

These numbers would be less disturbing if more research were available on e-cigarettes, but despite the popular claim that e-cigarettes are “safe,” the reality is that they’re simply safer. Safer than cigarettes. Not necessarily safe. There’s not enough research to suggest they’re entirely safe, especially not for children. What’s more, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports thirty percent of e-cigarette smokers end up smoking cigarettes, whereas only eight percent of non e-cigarette smokers end up smoking traditionally.

The FDA is planning a reckoning for major e-cigarette companies, such as Juul, Blu, and MarkTen. While the Vapor Tech Association, the organization that represents hundreds of e-cigarette producers and distributors, claims the FDA is venturing “into dangerous territory,” others such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Medical Association feel the FDA is not going far enough.

Few argue the benefit of e-cigarettes for adults. Anything that leads to a decline in cigarette use among adults ought to be applauded. But if the drawback is that it leads to a sharp rise of drug abuse in children, the question becomes is it really worth it?

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