CDC Says Teen E-Cig Use Has Doubled… But Are They Right?

Just in case you missed it, electronic cigarettes have been all over the news this week. We’ve watched the topic hit major publications like the Los Angeles Times, NBC News, USA Today, Time, and NPR. So what’s behind this sudden e-cig buzz? It all revolves around a new report from the CDC that claims teen e-cig use has doubled in the past year. Let’s take a look at the CDC’s report and then break it down a little further with some fact checking.

The Big CDC Announcement

Researchers from the CDC and FDA got together and looked at two surveys taken from middle and high school students in 2011 and 2012. In the 2011 survey, 4.7 percent of students said they had used e-cigarettes. In 2012, the percentage doubled to 10 percent. The survey also showed that 76.3 percent of students who reported using e-cigs in the previous month had also smoked regular cigarettes.

Perhaps the most troubling part of the report involved younger students, ages 6-12. The CDC reported that the number of kids in this age range that had tried e-cigarettes increased from 1.1 percent to 2.1 percent. Out of the 2.1 percent that tried e-cigs, 20 percent of them had not tried conventional cigarettes.

What the Media is Saying

Using these new numbers, the media is having a hay day, calling for new e-cig regulations left and right. They are calling for e-cig companies to stop offering flavors that appeal to children. “With flavors like bubble gum and cotton candy, e-cigarettes are very clearly being made and marketed in ways that appeal to children,” said Paul Billings of the American Lung Association.

Politicians are declaring that e-cigarettes are just a gateway to get kids to smoke regular cigarettes. “Electronic cigarettes as marketed today – with flavors like bubblegum and strawberry – are targeted at young people with the very clear intent of creating a new generation of smokers,” Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said.

Let’s Check the Facts

If you get beyond all the media hype, what are the real facts about kids and teens using e-cigarettes? Let’s start by just looking at this particular CDC report. The media has latched on to the statistic that 20 percent of 6-12 year olds that tried e-cigs had not tried tobacco cigarettes. It sounds awful, right? But let’s really break down their reported numbers.

The CDC said that in 2012, 2.1 percent of 6-12 year olds had tried e-cigarettes. So 20 percent of that group would only be .42 percent of the kids surveyed. So basically, Senator Blumenthal has decided that the e-cig industry is trying to turn children into a generation of smokers based on the fact that less than ½ of 1% of kids tried e-cigs and didn’t try conventional cigarettes. If the goal of the e-cig industry is to convert children into tobacco users, it looks like they are failing miserably, so why is the media in hysterics?

Secondly, part of the increase in students trying e-cigarettes is just the fact that they are becoming more popular and more easily accessible. Kids and teens have a history of dabbling in things they shouldn’t, whether we’re talking about cigarettes, alcohol, or pornography. By age 15, 50% of teens have had a least one alcoholic drink. Does that mean alcohol makers are targeting kids? Of course not!

It just means that alcohol is everywhere and kids access it despite the fact that underage drinking is illegal. Even if e-cigarettes are not available to minors (almost all companies will not sell them to people under age 18), there will still be a handful of kids that try them. We don’t see frequent headlines about how often teenagers drink, but that happens a lot more often than teens using e-cigarettes.

We Need a Shift in Focus

Instead of targeting e-cigarettes as the enemy, the media needs to look at real research and the undeniable potential benefits of e-cigarettes to the greater population. Over and over, we hear that there is not enough research on e-cigarettes to deem them as safe or effective. But new research is coming out everyday and there have already been tens of e-cig studies. Lack of research is just a myth or worse, an excuse because reporters or politicians didn’t do their homework.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, we can all agree that children and teens should not be using any kind of nicotine products. Whether they are smoking a pack of Camels or puffing on an e-cigarette, nicotine and kids do not mix. However, the media is sensationalizing these studies about children and e-cigarettes to fulfill a much bigger agenda. In the process, e-cigs are taking a beating that they just don’t deserve.

What did you think about this week’s media frenzy and the CDC report? Do you think e-cigs are really a big risk to children?

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Author Focus: Katie Bercham
Katie actually had a negative first experience of electronic cigarettes, picking up a cheap and horrible model from my local mall. Thanks to a chance meeting with co-editor David, she hasn’t had a tobacco cigarette in over 2 years. She brings a strong female voice to the e-cig community... Read Full Profile >