E-cigarettes: Good for adults, bad for children?

Are electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes, good or bad? There have been two huge stories recently, which may be seen as conflicting and confusing.

First, the good news. The Lancet showed that electronic cigarettes are effective in helping adults stop smoking. How effective? About as effective as the nicotine patch. Of course, more research is needed in this area, but this is a positive step, right?

Now, the bad news. A study from the Centers for Disease Control showed that e-cigarette use more than doubled among US middle school and high school students. I recommend you check out leading pediatrician social media journalists Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson and Dr. Claire McCarthy on their great essays on the topic.

But, what’s the problem? Kids cannot purchase real cigarettes. So, that means they cannot purchase e-cigarettes, right? Wrong. My home state of Ohio currently allows minors to purchase e-cigs, at least for now, according to this Dayton Daily News article. That’s gotta change. Currently only about a dozen states prohibit minors from purchasing.

In this video, the news report outlines the dangers of e-cigarette use, especially in children. Many editorials have been written, including this one from Newsday, asking states and the federal government to increase regulation to prohibit minors from purchasing e-cigarettes, just like prohibiting purchase of “real” cigarettes.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t want to ban all e-cigarettes. I have a lot of stories from patients and stories from friends saying how much e-cigarettes have helped them cut back and/or eliminate the use of real cigarettes. The initial data from the Lancet study is hopeful, and reinforces the anecdotal stories that I have from patients and from friends.

My issue is preventing children from access to electronic cigarettes. There is a window of opportunity (legally) for tobacco companies to expose children to the nicotine experience. And, I think that the health community, as well as the general public, have to educate ourselves on this subject, and get our lawmakers to do the right thing.

Mike Sevilla is a family physician who blogs at his self-titled site, Dr. Mike Sevilla.

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