WASHINGTON — Children in the United States are seeing lots of ads for e-cigarettes — and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that is one big reason why the use of e-cigs is soaring among the young.
A new CDC report says seven in 10 middle and high school students have seen these advertisements which — like cigarette ads of yore — use themes of sex, independence and rebellion to sell their products.
“The e-cigarette advertising we’re seeing is like the old-time Wild West; no rules, no regulations and heavy spending,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden.
Data from the CDC’s 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, found that 68.9 percent of teens and tweens saw e-cigarette ads from one or more media source. And those advertisements can have a great impact.
“Kids just pick up advertising messages really well and from young ages,” says Joanna Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
She cites a key study conducted in the 1990s to prove her point. It showed that children as young as 3 years old recognized the Joe Camel cartoon figure more than they recognized Mickey Mouse.
Last year, researchers at Hopkins wrote of the potential health hazards of e-cigarettes. The report — published in the journal PLOS ONE — was based on a mouse study that found evidence that e-cigs may compromise the immune system.
Frieden says while there may be some limited benefit to short-term e-cigarette use for adults trying to wean themselves off regular cigarettes, the risk for kids is unacceptable.
He cites a possible impact on brain development, and notes that e-cigs still contain nicotine, which can be extremely addictive.
Government statistics show while cigarette smoking is down among teens, the use of e-cigs is way up. The CDC says e-cigarettes could reverse the trend, with many young people eventually transitioning to far more dangerous tobacco products.
“We are really excited that smoking rates are coming down among kids, but we have to keep working to make sure that they stay low,” says Cohen.
Maryland and Virginia are among the states that have already banned sales of e-cigarettes to minors, and similar legislation has been introduced in the District, but there has been no movement in the D.C. council.
But it may take much more than a ban to solve the problem, Frieden says.
E-cigarettes are readily available for anyone of any age to purchase on the Internet, and the CDC’s Frieden indicates an all-out awareness campaign may be needed.
He suggests states may want to use some of the money they received as part of a big settlement with tobacco companies in the late 1990s. But such action may have to wait until the Food And Drug Administration announces a long-awaited formal proposal to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.
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