E-Cigarettes: Can They Kill You Too?

The number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes has tripled in the past three years.


 It’s hard to believe anybody smokes cigarettes these days, what with their dirty, suffocating smoke and pungent odor—not to mention the well-documented health risks.

And statistics show that your generation is smart—so smart that you’ve been on track to end this lethal habit once and for all. But then along came electronic cigarettes.

Not so fast . . .

Though there’s been a decline in the number of teens smoking conventional cigarettes, the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes has tripled in the past three years—contributing to a brand-new and booming $3 billion industry. But even though these devices don’t flood your lungs with smoke, they still contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug that comes from the leaves of tobacco plants. “Nicotine actually creates changes in the developing brain,” says Robin Koval, CEO and president of Legacy, a health foundation created to prevent youth smoking.

That’s not even the worst of it, though. E-cigs are so new, no one knows exactly how dangerous they may be, and Koval says that the industry is actually courting teens. Choices went on a mission to uncover what’s hiding behind all that vapor—so you don’t get burned.

You Think: “E-cigs are totally different than regular cigarettes.”

Ask Yourself: Is that what tobacco companies want me to believe?

Battery power, vapor, flavors galore—the technology may be novel, but the brains behind these devices are veterans in the battle to get teens to start smoking. Yes, major e-brands are owned by Big Tobacco companies—that is, the same corporations responsible for nearly 6 million tobacco-related deaths worldwide each year.

In fact, research shows that if you don’t start smoking by age 19, you’re unlikely to ever become a smoker. Hence the possible motive to try converting teens into new customers. “The e-cig industry is very clever in saying they don’t market to teens,” explains Koval.

“But they’re using a lot of the same tactics that they used to recruit millions and millions of young people to smoke regular cigarettes.” (Some of these previously successful techniques include celebrity endorsements and clever movie placements; new tactics include sweet flavors, such as cookies ‘n’ cream or cherry.)

You Think: “E-cigs helped my mom quit smoking, so they can’t be that addictive.”

Ask Yourself: Can e-cigarettes potentially hook me on real cigarettes?

In 2003, a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik invented the modern e-cigarette after losing his father to lung cancer. Like his dad, Hon was a smoker, and he desperately wanted a way get his nicotine fix without the chemical-laden smoke. In 2007, his device made its way to America with great fanfare—finally, a way to help the most addicted kick their habits!

But now, researchers are beginning to suspect that e-cigs could have the power to convert teens to tobacco users. “We’re finding that kids who never smoked before are using e-cigarettes, and they may be moving on to smoking regular cigarettes,” explains Dr. Garry Sigman, director of adolescent medicine at Loyola University Medical Center. “Basically, e-cigarettes are teaching you to smoke.”

You Think: “E-cigs aren’t even regulated—they must be safe!”

Ask Yourself: Regular cigarettes weren’t regulated at first. Is history repeating itself?

Thanks to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most products are regulated to ensure you know exactly what you’re getting—and what you’re getting is safe. The Tylenol you take to ease your headache, for example, comes with standard ingredients, detailed dosage information, and safety warnings, all based on rigorous scientific evidence.

But establishing these guidelines is a lengthy process, and e-cig regulations are still years away. Currently, anyone can sell them, so there’s no guarantee regarding how they’re made, what’s in them, and how they’re advertised. (As of press time, though, 41 states do prohibit their sale to minors like you.)

Sound familiar? It should. Traditional cigarettes developed into a big-time business before anyone knew the true side effects. And by the time warning labels appeared on packages in 1966, a whopping 42 percent of Americans were already smokers.

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