The use of E-cigarettes, or vape pens, has skyrocketed among young people. Despite federal laws that mandate customers be at least 18 years of age to purchase vape products like pens, juices, and oils, vaping is popular with children as young as middle school age.
Critics say that it's the marketing. Companies that make the cartridges and products sell oils and e-juice in flavors like "Sour gummy" or whipped cream, and even fruit flavors that suggest it's simply healthy "fruit juice." In marketing studies, many young people believe that vaping is not dangerous, or at least not AS dangerous as smoking traditional cigarettes. That's not entirely accurate. Many vape pens use nicotine in highly concentrated amounts, topped off with a fun "flavor" of peach or birthday cake. While the taste is nothing like a Marlboro or a Lucky Strike, the flavoring of candy and sweet treats, leads to the belief that it's harmless. The chemicals that are in the vapor, along with the chemical reaction that happens when the material is heated, combine to create a vapor of aerosilized liquid droplets that can often contain toxic materials like lead and arsenic. Respiratory problems have been linked to many of these substances, but the brightly colored packaging and fruity flavors send an entirely different message.
So how widespread is the use of vape pens among those under 18? A report from the US Surgeon General shows that the number of high school students using a vape pen regularly went up 900% in during between 2011 and 2015. Approximately 1.7 million high school students report using vaping devices, and more than 500,000 middle schoolers have as well. In an article in the JPost, e-cigarettes made by Juul are being banned, beginning September 3, 2018 according to a Ministry of Health statement, because they pose “a grave risk to public health.”
The technology makes it a lot easier for kids to sneak a pen into classrooms, because most of the favorite brands of pens, like Juul, create little to no odor. The devices are small and can resemble a pencil, a screen stylus or even a USB drive, so they are not that noticeable visually either. Groups like the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have notified the FDA of manufacturers they believe are violating current FDA regulations on new products, alleging that companies are bringing new flavors and devices to market without FDA approval.
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FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told USA Today that the marketing devices and flavors targeting youth put kids at an "exceedingly high risk" of developing a nicotine addiction. Earlier this month the agency contacted vape manufacturers, including JUUL Labs, Inc., and asked for information on their marketing and manufacturing processes and reminding them that action could be taken if they were found in violation of the agency policy.
The FDA is also considering a ban on specific flavors of e-juice that it believes are marketing inappropriately to young people, but will first be rolling out a public service informational campaign on the dangers of vaping. They are also considering more research into what precisely in the marketing of these products is working to draw in younger consumers. Gottlieb stated further to USA Today, "We are very concerned that we could be addicting a whole generation of young people. We only have a narrow window of opportunity to address it." Check out the clip below to see more about the steps being taken to curb vape use among young people.