E-cigarettes use among youth condemned by US surgeon general

E-cigarettes use among youth condemned by US surgeon general
The US surgeon general has raised alarm over the vulnerability of young people to the negative health effects of e-cigarettes in the fight against nicotine addiction. A new report challenges the view that vaping is less dangerous than smoking.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, the nation's top doctor, released a report Thursday  — 'E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults' — that recommended e-cigarettes be treated like other forms of tobacco smoking, especially with regards to use among young people.

"We know a great deal about what works to effectively prevent tobacco use among young people," the new report said. "Now we must apply these strategies to e-cigarettes."

The report stressed the dangers of e-cigarette use among youth, calling it "a major public health concern" while challenging the view that vaping is not as dangerous as regular cigarette smoking. E-cigarette use, or any nicotine use for that matter, has more negative consequences for brain development and health among young people, the report said, than for older adults. 

Addiction and mood disorders are among the effects of "nicotine exposure," the report added while underscoring that nicotine use during pregnancy "can result in multiple adverse consequences, including sudden infant death syndrome."

"It is important for youth, young adults, parents and policy makers to understand that e-cigarettes are not just harmless water vapor,"said Cheryl Perry, a senior scientific editor of the report and Rockwell Distinguished Chair in Society and Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health. "They have substantial amounts of addictive nicotine and are being marketed to attract a young population."

In a new report, the US surgeon general says young people are more vulnerable to negative health effects of e-cigarettes, use of which could threaten gains made in America to combat nicotine addiction.

The report pointed out that "gaps in scientific evidence do exist" regarding e-cigarettes, which "deliver nicotine, flavorings, and other additives to users via an inhaled aerosol." 

"For example, the health effects and potentially harmful doses of heated and aerosolized  constituents of e-cigarette liquids—including solvents, flavorants, and toxicants—are not completely understood," Murthy wrote in the report's preface. "However, although e-cigarettes generally emit fewer toxicants than combustible tobacco products, we know that aerosol from e-cigarettes is not harmless."

There is no proof that e-cigarettes act as an aid to help smokers quit the habit, the report said, while also conceding that there is no proof that e-cigarettes are a gateway to paper-and-filter cigarettes. 

"More studies are needed to elucidate the nature of any true causal relationship between e-cigarette and combustible tobacco product use," the report said.

Use of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) among middle school students increased more than eightfold — from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent — between 2011 and 2015, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, while 16 percent of high school students were  considered current users of e-cigarettes in 2015 compared to 1.5 percent in 2011. 

Meanwhile, the number of high school students who smoked traditional cigarettes decreased from 15.8 percent in 2011 to 9.3 percent in 2015, according to the CDC. The overall smoking rate in the US was at a record low in 2015, at 15 percent.

The report was met with opposition from those who say e-cigarettes can help smokers quit more harmful traditional cigarettes.

"The long tradition of scientifically rigorous messages and reports from the U.S. surgeon general appears to have ended," Dr. Edward Anselm of the conservative think tank R Street said in a statement. "The report focuses on youth experimentation and completely omits the opportunities for harm reduction these devices offer for adult smokers."

In September, tobacco giant Philip Morris announced it had invested heavily in a smokeless tobacco e-cigarette known as iQOS. This week, the company filed its first application to market the device in the US, claiming it is less harmful than traditional cigarettes, according to Reuters.