Human ingenuity knows few limits, but for those who peddle tobacco, that is not something to celebrate.
Tobacco use is a scourge to health, so what do clever minds come up with? E-cigarettes, battery-operated devices that mimic the real thing. They deliver nicotine but don’t give off smoke, just a watery vapor that looks like smoke.
E-cigarettes come with dubious claims: They are not real cigarettes, so they aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; no need to restrict their sales then. They’ll keep kids from switching to real cigarettes. They’ll help smokers quit.
These assertions deserve as much credence as those made by the tobacco industry over the years to defend regular cigarettes. This is becoming increasingly clear from scientific studies, just as it did with tobacco products.
According to a new study by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), adolescents who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking. The study of nearly 40,000 young people around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent. E-cigarettes come in flavors that appeal to a young market.
The study is the first analysis of the relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking among American adolescents. Its results are consistent with a similar study of 75,000 Korean youths published last year by UCSF researchers.
“E-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco,” said Lauren Dutra, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
Added Stanton Glantz, a UCSF professor of medicine, director of the center, and senior author of the study: “It looks to me like the Wild West marketing of e-cigarettes is not only encouraging youth to smoke them, but also it is promoting regular cigarette smoking among youth.”
Ohio lawmakers have voted to outlaw the sale of e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18 — but also to tax them at a lower rate than traditional cigarettes. In the budget recommendations he offered this week, Gov. John Kasich properly called for taxing all tobacco products at an equivalent rate.
Until more is known — and what is already known is disturbing — e-cigarettes should not be treated differently from any others.